“Have you ever noticed how minutes or hours seem to speed up sometimes, but other times they go really slow? And how you remember things that happened a long time ago and it was like only yesterday? Ever think that maybe it doesn’t just seem that way? That time really does speed up and slow down?”
Ted Kampfert, a homeless musician in Elizabeth Hand’s vibrant new novel, Radiant Days, addresses these questions to two young creative types in the early morning hours of October 9, 1978. The idealistic and passionate young woman, Merle, has been kicked out of art school and is nearly homeless herself, spending her time painting graffiti art with the tag “Radiant Days.” She lives in Washington, D.C.
The boy, named Arthur, is a talented teenage poet. He, though, is living in 1870, in France. But on this magical night they are brought together, on a journey which, like the novel itself, explores the meaning and making of art, and the intensity of being young.
It was no accident that Hand chose Arthur Rimbaud as her time traveler in this complex and passionate depiction of youth. Hand herself discovered the poet when she was a teenager, and in her author’s note she tells us that Arthur Rimbaud may be considered the “patron saint” of young poets, as he wrote most of his poems before he turned 20, and many between the ages of 16 and 18.
But even more compelling here is the way Elizabeth Hand captures Merle’s edgy, nervous energy and the 1970s setting. As Ted Kampfert reminds us, sometimes it really does seem like things from long ago only happened yesterday.