Kathleen Stone at Ploughshares:
In her new book, The Art of the Wasted Day, Patricia Hampl meanders through disparate terrain: A garden in Llangollen, Wales. A smoky café in Prague. A library in Brno housing notebooks that detail the genetic lives of peapods. A monastery in California. Small towns near the headwaters of the Mississippi River. Disparate yet similar, all places that allow the mind to wander and encourage the leisurely waste of a day. But a day of leisure is not a waste; it is, instead, necessary for reflection and introspection, even the flowering of character.
As she muses, Hampl frequently touches on her husband and on Montaigne. We first meet her husband as Hampl is having a panic attack on an airplane. One seatmate, a nurse, coaches her to breathe deeply while her husband takes her hand into his, a “beautiful hand I’ve always loved.” Several pages later she recounts their first meeting, years earlier, when she is moving into an apartment and he, resident in the building, offers to show her where the garbage bins are located. From this they build a life together, with a shared love of poetry and conversation at the kitchen table, coffee cups between them. We never learn his name though she often returns to him, just as she circles back to Montaigne, the garden in Wales, the peapods in Brno. We learn that his beautiful hand is now dust, in her words, and she slowly pays out the facts surrounding his death, only hinting at some. The details, like his name, are not the point. What is important is her memory of his voice, prodding and encouraging her, as she continues her side of their conversations.