Review: Still Life with Insects by Brian Kiteley

I received an advanced review copy of this novella from Pharos editions.  The description of this press from their website states: “Pharos Editions is dedicated to bringing to light out-of-print, lost or rare books of distinction. A carefully curated list of beautifully produced books, Pharos titles are hand-picked and introduced by some of today’s most exciting authors, creators, and artists. Pharos Editions is an imprint of Counterpoint Press.”

My Review:
Still Life With InsectsElwyn Farmer’s life hasn’t exactly turned out as he had planned.  He was in graduate school to become an entomologist but circumstances out of his control forced him to abandon his work before he finished his degree.  He does, however, maintain a passionate interest in bugs throughout his life and collects and catalogues them with meticulous precision.

The book is unique in that each memory Elwyn has about his life is punctuated by the bugs he has collected along his journey.  For instance, he is on a camping trip with his wife and he captures two mating beatles in an outhouse.

Even though this is a very short read, I fell in love with the character of Elwyn.  We are told through the course of his narrative that had a nervous breakdown at one point in his life when his job became too much.  He is a kind, dependable, humble man whose family, friends and colleagues all display a great amount of respect for him.  His evolving relationship with his sons and grandsons, in particular, is deeply touching.

In the end, maybe it is because it is a hobby and not his job that helps Elwyn maintain his passion for entomology.  If he were forced to deal with bugs he might not have had such a zeal for collecting.  Elwyn teaches us that sometimes life has other plans for us and in the end all things work out for the best.

About The Author:
Brian Kiteley is Professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of Denver, and the author of the novels Still Life With Insects, I Know Many Songs, But I Cannot Sing and The River Gods and two fiction writing guides, The 3 A.M. Epiphany, and The 4 A.M. Breakthrough. The recipient of Guggenheim, Whiting, and NEA fellowships, Brian has also had residencies at the MacDowell Colony, Millay, Yaddo, and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. His fiction has been anthologized in The Best American Short Stories and The Four-Way Reader.


Filed under Classics, Literary Fiction

2 responses to “Review: Still Life with Insects by Brian Kiteley

  1. There’s a W. Somerset Maugham quote which to paraphrase says something along the lines that a man who makes his living at a particular thing will never sentimentalize it, so in other words, work can sometimes bring disillusion while a hobby is always fun.


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