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Originally published Friday, April 18, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Book review

"Fall of Frost": A fictionalized account of when aged poet Robert Frost went as an envoy to the U.S.S.R. during the Cuban Missile Crisis — really

In "Fall of Frost" Brian Hall imaginatively re-creates a-pivotal moment in American history, telling it from the perspective of an iconic American.

Special to The Seattle Times

Author appearance

Brian Hall

The author of "Fall of Frost" will read at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Seattle's Elliott Bay Book Co. (206-624-6600; www.elliottbaybook.com).

"Fall of Frost"

by Brian Hall

Viking, 340 pp., $25.95

In "I Should Be Extremely Happy in Your Company," Brian Hall fictionalized the Lewis and Clark expedition. Now, in "Fall of Frost" he imaginatively re-creates a no-less-pivotal moment in American history, telling it from the perspective of an iconic American.

It is 1962. As the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. face off over Soviet missile installations in Cuba, 88-year-old poet Robert Frost, in one of the strangest diplomatic missions of all time, is sent to Russia to meet Premier Khrushchev. The fact that President John F. Kennedy allowed such a wild effort suggests how precarious the situation really was.

But Frost's own world is falling apart. Age has slowed his wit, eroded his concentration. Now his past returns in fragments — the loss of their first child that left his wife inconsolable for the rest of her life; his alienation from a daughter who ended up in a mental institution; his futile efforts to connect with a son who finally took his own life. He remembers his own parents and their violent relationship. He remembers the woman with whom, late in life, he has fallen in love but who seems unwilling to reciprocate with the same emotional intensity.

The result is nothing short of a debacle. Facing reporters on his return, Frost speaks off the cuff, as if to an audience of adoring poetry readers, and sends new uncertainty rippling through the taut tissue of U.S.-Soviet relations. "He said we were too liberal to fight," Frost inaccurately quotes the Soviet premier. Privately, Kennedy makes the rueful comment, "Give an egomaniac a microphone!"

Hall has read widely in works by and about Frost. Quotations from his poems and letters are woven deftly through the narrative, and every incident is based on documentary evidence. Hall's stream of Frost's consciousness is deep with detail and treacherous with waterfalls of sudden chronological leaps, but slowly the poet's long and eventful life emerges as a continuous whole.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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