One Last Bedtime Story

Avi Steinberg praises Maurice Sendak’s final work, My Brother’s Book, as his only book designed explicitly “for those adults who had grown up with his stories”:

In dedicating this last story to us, his once-children readers, he is Brothers_Book_03 marking the passage of time in our lives. He’s dated us. When I pick up this new book, I am reminded, as if I needed to be reminded, that I am no longer the ferocious, hyper-absorbed, small wonder of a Sendak reader I once was—nor, I’m guessing, are you. Had Sendak created another “Where the Wild Things Are” for us, would we even be able to appreciate it? For us obsolete children, as Theodor Geisel dubbed adults, it would be beside the point.

What makes this last book special is that Sendak is willing to meet his former-children readers where they are now in their lives—on the condition that they meet him where he was at the end of his. [Sendak friend Tony] Kushner told me that he saw Sendak, toward the end of his life, eyes dimmed, hunched over his studio desk, pressing his face so close to the drafts that his dear nose was almost touching them. For his devoted readers, this tender proximity—this intimacy—may be the most affecting part of “My Brother’s Book.” The supple details are Sendak’s way of physically drawing us in, closer and closer, until we tap the page with our own noses: one last kiss goodnight.

Liz Rosenberg was similarly moved:

Sendak claimed to have been terrified of death all his life. He had the kind of sickly childhood that tends to form great artists. (Robert Louis Stevenson was another, along with Edvard Munch, Toulouse-Lautrec, and Proust.) Small wonder that so many of his young heroes and heroines face death, whether they laugh in its face or flee. Max terrifies and rules the Wild Things that menace him. Ida rescues her baby brother from the ice goblins of Outside Over There, and Pierre, who famously “doesn’t care,” lightly flings himself into the lion’s mouth. This is not new territory for Sendak, but he newly mints it in the absolute conviction with which he throws himself into his eternal themes. If there is a message to the book it is that some things are worth dying for, including love.

Previous Dish on Sendak’s final book here.

(Copyright © 2013 by the Estate of Maurice Sendak. Used by permission of the Estate of Maurice Sendak/Michael di Capua Books/HarperCollins Publishers.)