Quite simply, Elizabeth Smart's By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept is requisite reading for lovers. While its form may be open to debate--is it fictionalized autobiography, poetic prose, a novel, a prose elegy, a psalm?--its function is shockingly clear. Few books are as dangerously honest about the invasion that is passionate love.
Browsing in a bookshop, Elizabeth Smart chanced upon a book of poems that would change her life. Falling in love first with the poetry of George Barker, Smart eventually sought out the poet himself and paid to relocate and house the impecunious poet and his wife. That's right, and his wife. Both hostess and mistress, Smart had four children with Barker during the affair that prompted this searing, exquisite examination of desire and identity.
Amazingly, By Grand is as passionate on the page as the events that inspired it. Aching and unapologetic, By Grand is the diary of an affair, not a marriage, and its tug of war between terror and desire is constant. Smart is simultaneously character, author, and lover, confessing guilt one moment while sparing nothing of her bliss the next: "Under the waterfall he surprised me bathing and gave me what I could no more refuse than the earth can refuse the rain." Emboldened by its honesty and intensity, By Grand wrests its unique place in the literature of love with pitch-perfect language that ranges from the sweeping to the needle precise. Toppling over into love, Smart knows, "Fear will be a terrible fox at my vitals under my tunic of behaviour." --Darryl Whetter