Tim Taranto’s “Ars Botanica: A Field Guide” is an epistolary memoir using letters written to his unborn child. The book tells the story of Taranto’s relationship with his lover, the blossoming and loss of their relationship, alongside the loss of their aborted child.
Catch Taranto speaking about his new book with Chicago author Suzanne Scanlon at Women and Children First this Friday, July 21, at 7:30 p.m.
The memoir reads like a carefully composed scrapbook; the narrative is interspersed with sketches and notes on the pieces of the natural world that were important to the couple, along with bits of dialogue, song lyrics and poems. It’s a field guide to a world that Taranto and his lover inhabited and that their child will never know. Taranto explains:
“I’ll never draw with you. I won’t pick wildflowers or scour the river for geodes with you. I can’t train your ear to recognize a tanger by its song. But I’ll draw for you, create for you an ars botanica depicting a world you never knew. I’ll tell you a story, too. I’ll write you, because loss does not end our relationships with the departed, it transforms them.”
“Ars Botanica” depicts the joy of falling in love using the perspective of a quiet, settled grief, at once willing to acknowledge the beauty of what was lost while holding onto the pain of losing it.
“‘I don’t think I love you, I feel I love you,’ I said. ‘Which is it.’
‘I’m just being crazy.’ she said.
‘You’re not crazy at all. You’re like the one non-crazy person in my life.’
‘Can you pick me up?’ she asked.
‘Like pick me up and hold me?’
I can’t be sure that I am not, at this moment, still holding her.
Taranto’s world is a bit magical; he’s a likable narrator who takes pictures of flowers and woolly worms to send to his lover, and he knows the history and myths of the natural world around him. I recommend this book to any lover of gorgeous prose, lovers of nature, and especially to those who don’t flinch away from a close inspection of love and its inevitable counterpart: loss.