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Omni Daily Crush: "When the Sons of Heaven Meet the Daughters of the Earth"

Well, I had big plans to Crush today on a favorite novel from last year, Edward Docx's Pravda, but that's going to have to wait, since I just ran across a call over at The Millions that I can't ignore. In honor of NYRB Classics' 10th anniversary, they are soliciting nominations for the next out-of-print book that NYRB should rescue with their imprimatur. Any regular Omni reader will know that the letters N-Y-R-B are Pavlov's bell to me, so what can I say: today's plans have changed.

There are some evocative suggestions already in the comments section there (most of which I hadn't even heard of, which is thrilling), and at the NYRB's Facebook page more are coming in (including a pitch from once (and future?) Omni contributor Mike Smith for Dalton Trumbo's Night of the Aurochs). One FB commenter suggests Brian Moore's An Answer from Limbo, and knowing from our recent Q&A that NYRB boss Edwin Frank is already planning to bring back Moore's Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne I've already abused my new access to suggest to him a Moore favorite of my own, Lies of Silence.

But the first lost classic that always comes to my mind is another book, a pretty recent one that has quickly fallen off the radar as far as I can tell: When the Sons of Heaven Meet the Daughters of the Earth by Fernanda Eberstadt, which first came out in 1997. I can no longer recall what sent me to that book in the first place (maybe it was just a wander through the shelves at Powell's...), but it was a revelation. Funny and impossibly (okay, sometimes showily) brainy, it manages to be both a wicked satire of the New York art world and a complex and sympathetic story of one artist's development: Isaac Hooker, a willful, self-taught giant of a man, whose youth Eberstadt traced in her earlier novel, Isaac and His Devils. I went back to that earlier novel after starting with When the Sons, and it's excellent, as is her only novel since, The Furies, which is driven by similar passions and style, but When the Sons is still my favorite of hers. (She has a new novel coming out in the spring, Rat, which is among the first books I'm going to open now that I can start reading 2010; on first glance it seems to mark a shift in style for her, but we'll see....)

Her style is not for everyone (certainly not for whomever gave When the Sons its string of snippy 1-star reviews in 1999, which I suspect were all from the same person)--it's dense (though not impossibly so) and unabashedly smart, and she writes from within the NYC high society in which she was eccentrically raised (she's the granddaughter of Ogden Nash, and worked at Andy Warhol's Factory when she was 16). But she belongs on a shelf with writers like Claire Messud, Shirley Hazzard, and, well, Edward Docx--Pravda is actually the book that's reminded me the most of Eberstadt since I've read her. They all write books of ideas and characters, with language that's both lush and biting and with an old-fashioned taste for the movements of time and between classes that have always driven the novel.

--Tom

Recommended for fans of Messud's The Emperor's Children and Hazzard's Transit of Venus.

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