Random House: Bringing You the Best in Fiction, Nonfiction, and Children's Books
Newletters and Alerts

Buy now from Random House

  • Darlington's Fall
  • Written by Brad Leithauser
  • Format: eBook | ISBN: 9780307824516
  • Our Price: $18.99
  • Quantity:
See more online stores - Darlington's Fall

Darlington's Fall

A novel in verse

Written by Brad LeithauserAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Brad Leithauser


List Price: $18.99


On Sale: November 21, 2012
Pages: 336 | ISBN: 978-0-307-82451-6
Published by : Knopf Knopf
Darlington's Fall Cover

Share & Shelve:

  • Add This - Darlington's Fall
  • Email this page - Darlington's Fall
  • Print this page - Darlington's Fall
This book has no tags.
You can add some at Library Thing.


The hero of this one-of-a-kind novel is Russel Darlington, a born naturalist and an unlikely romantic hero. We meet him in the year 1895—a seven-year-old boy first glimpsed chasing a frog through an Indiana swamp. And we follow this idealistic, appealing man for nearly forty years: into college and over the Rockies in pursuit of a new species of butterfly; through a clumsy courtship and into a struggling marriage; across the Pacific, where on a tiny, rainy island he suffers a nightmarish accident; through the deaths of friends and family and into a seemingly hopeless passion for an unapproachable young woman.

Darlington’s Fall is ultimately a love story. It is written in verse that—vivid, accessible, and lush—imparts an intensity to the story and its luminous gallery of characters: Russel’s rich, taciturn, up-right, guilt-driven father; Miss Kraus, his formidable housekeeper; Ernst Schrock, his maddening, gluttonous mentor; and Pauline Beaudette, the beautiful, ill-starred girl who becomes his wife. Leithauser’s embracingly compassionate outlook invites us into their world—into a past so sharply realized it feels like the present.

In Darlington’s Fall, Brad Leithauser offers an ingeniously plotted story and the virtues long associated with his elegant stanzas: wit, music, and a keen eye for the natural world. His independent careers as novelist and poet come together brilliantly here, producing something rare and wonderful in the landscape of contemporary American writing: a book that bends borders, a happy marriage of poetry and fiction.


Half an Orphan

The hand hungers: the jewel of the world,
And his for the taking. In all his long
Life of looking, never once beheld
A thing so fine—never wanted anything
Quite so much as this astonishing
Being, this stout green glittering
Prize . . . But the getting his hands on it,
The business of the capturing,
That will be dicey (difficult, delicate),
With so many ways everything can go wrong . . .

Hands are hungry and with hungry hands
You must work extra hard to keep
Your wits about you, to be slow and quick
At once, as the situation demands.
(When you're so full of wanting, it's no small trick.)
 Boil down all the trees in the forest until
They form a single cup of resin, still
You would never concoct a green
So bright, so dark, so dizzyingly deep
As this, the purest color he has ever seen.

The jewel of the world: conceived
In mud and muck, then dropped on a fallen log
Down at the edge of the pond. He can't stop
Even to remove his shoes—no time—
Wades rights in, feet sucked at by the slime . . .
The trouble here? It's that the frog
(The hugest frog in all the world) can get away
So many different ways, can simply drop—
Flop!—and be gone, never to be retrieved.
Oh, so many ways for things to go astray!

He slides toward it, heart about to burst
In his mouth, heart full in his hands. It must be
A dream . . . that's what he'd thought at first,
Spotting it: so big, so green, and right there.
That was the amazing thing: the thing's reality.
The wish formed instantly, deep as any prayer:
Let me get my hands on him! Here's the prize
He's waited all his life for: the overfull
Eyes and barrel chest, the kingly receding skull,
The bulging banked power in the thighs . . .

A sliding step—a sliding step—and nearly
Nearly there. Inside his chest, desire suspends
A weight, a weight connected to a spring,
His heart like a mousetrap, waiting
To snap shut with an absolutely desolating
Empty clap . . . How will he bear it if the thing
Escapes?—oh, when he wants it so dearly,
Never wanted anything so much!
And almost there, now he can all but touch—
A hungry beggar's hand extends . . .

He lunges, just as the frog leaps,
And right there,
in midair,
in midair's where
The two creatures (hands of the one, brute
Miraculous torso of the other) lock
Together, a solid thumping shock
That races up his arm like a flare,
Crackles and cleanses and expands
As it climbs, torching his brain. (And the fire keeps
Burning: decades hence, when his fleet-foot
Boyhood's dim, he'll recall, with tingling hands,

The summer morning when his little hands
Clamped on the creature and held it whole,
Feeling in that moment so rich a press
Of feeling, perhaps no other touch
(Or maybe one?—one only?—the one to come
Four decades on?) ever will thrill him quite so much.
Oh, every cell in his body understands
What he himself cannot begin to guess:
This instant lasts forever, there are some
Encounters that configure your soul.)

The thing squirms—
squirms half loose, slips,
But his fingers grapple: one leg, got it, one
Big back leg grasped tight, as his other hand, scooping
Upward, catches it from below, grips
It round the chest: the booming noble pulse
Yes in his palm: he has it, it's now his great good luck
To have it: the jewel of the world—and where else
But in the warm chalice of his hands? A whooping
Howl rips free of his throat, winging like a duck
Over the trees, straight at the sun.

. . . Quite a specimen himself, striding in glory
From the swamp to Great Elm Street with his live
Plunder, feeling on this day of his greatest fame
Like king of the whole town, his hometown, Storey,
Indiana—this Russel Darlington,
Customarily known as Russ, although the name
He himself secretly prefers is one
Provided by Mr. Hauser, the town pharmacist,
Who calls him Little Mister Naturalist.
Russ is seven, this summer of 1895.

Quite a small boy still, yet even so
An object of large and labored supposition
To his neighbors. For one thing, his father, John,
May well be the county's wealthiest man; for another,
The boy's clearly in need of female supervision,
His mother having died three years ago
Giving birth to a stillborn son
(It being a truth universally understood
That a young male heir to a good
Fortune is in want of a mother).
Brad Leithauser

About Brad Leithauser

Brad Leithauser - Darlington's Fall

Photo © Michael Lionstar

Brad Leithauser was born in Detroit and graduated from Harvard College and Harvard Law School. He is the author of five previous novels, a novel in verse, five volumes of poetry, two collections of light verse, and a book of essays. Among his many awards and honors are a MacArthur Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and, in 2005, the induction by the president of Iceland into the Order of the Falcon for his writings about Nordic literature. He is a professor in the writing seminars at Johns Hopkins University. He and his wife, Mary Jo Salter, divide their time between Baltimore, Maryland, and Amherst, Massachusetts.



"An amazing merger of art and science, verse and narrative. Leithauser has invented a stanza as accommodating and mobile as prose, which yet rewards us, if we listen, with the music of rhyme. Prose could not have provided a narrative so richly embroidered, so darting and animated in its impulses and inspirations, so glitteringly exact in its evocations of nature. Not since Nabokov has the miracle of consciousness been celebrated with such erudite passion, such lofty wit."
–John Updike

“Darlington’s Fall
[should be recognized] for its daring and achievement, its range of language and imagery, its moments of gliding beauty, and the gift for storytelling that unfolds in it.”
–W. S. Merwin, New York Review of Books

“A tour de force…Poetic art helps Leithauser to meet what is perhaps the greatest challenge confronting a novelist whose character lives as much in the mind as in the world. The ancient resources of verse lend glamour and solidity to what might have been a prosaic description of the joy of discovery.”
–Michael Lind, The Washington Post Book World

“Darlington’s Fall
by Brad Leithauser is one of the best novels I have read in years–rich in characterization, compelling in the shape and drive of its story, intellectually and verbally diverse.” –David Mason, The Hudson Review

“Leithauser has allowed himself to fall under the spell of the story of a [late-Victorian] Midwestern naturalist who dreams great dreams. The result is charming and quite wonderful.” –Jonathan Levi, L.A. Times Book Review

“A poetic narrative so silky and enchanting that its formal complexities–unobtrusive use of rhyme, lovely musicality–flow just below the radar of consciousness, leaving behind a mental caress.” –Donna Seaman, Booklist

“Witty and elegant . . . lucid and rhythmically deft.”
–David Yezzi, Wall Street Journal

“Leithauser probably could have written a textbook, too, with all the butterfly research he apparently did. But he wears his learning lightly . . . The irregularly rhymed stanza he uses here is strict enough to strain out unnecessary detail but flexible enough to accommodate grand descriptive flourishes . . . Darlington’s Fall is not just coherent, but tight.”
–Eric McHenry, New York Times Book Review

“Leithauser has happily resolved the problem of making a unity between verse and fiction. The book is definitely a page-turner; the author’s artful plotting holds the reader’s curiosity. The period details are wonderfully convincing..”
–Phoebe Pettingell, The New Leader

“All the charm and complexity of an Ozark Swallowtail. . .There’s nothing Leithauser can’t catch in this net of verse.” –Ron Charles, Christian Science Monitor

“Leithauser reveals astonishing inventiveness and flexibility . . . Darlington’s Fall is extremely clever, yet its adroitness is more than matched by the risks of its narrative leaps and by its passion and humanity.” –Frederic Koeppel, The Memphis Commercial Appeal

“Essentially a love story, Darlington’s Fall is also a fascinating meditation on chance, natural selection, the nature of science and art, the evolution of species–and the human individual.” –Nature Conservancy

“It’s always fun to greet a book that’s fresh and original . . . The rhyming strategy reflects wit and good sense . . . and the slow, heaving, eonslong drama of geological time known as evolution creates a force field that keeps booming in our psyches long after we close Darlington’s Fall. If that isn’t a bookshopper’s bargain, what is?”
–Peter Wolfe, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Your E-Mail Address
send me a copy

Recipient's E-Mail Address
(multiple addresses may be separated by commas)

A personal message: