Their perspectives on Sendak’s work, juxtaposed with Mr. Cott’s own exchanges with the artist, illuminate Sendak’s books and psyche to remarkable effect. Enriched throughout with images of Sendak’s art, the book will be catnip for those who already admire him. Non-enthusiasts who never warmed to his more discomfiting books as children or, as adults, to either his work or his irascible manner may find themselves surprised, sympathetic and enchanted ... In this riveting account of Sendak’s vision, Mr. Cott captures the pain and glory of the creative process: moments of soaring grandiosity and times of grinding struggle, of words and images that won’t come or that come in the wrong way.
Cott has returned to Sendak and produced a biography that uses Outside Over There as the key to this great artist’s life and work. Cott has chosen his focus wisely…Outside Over There is a brilliant picture book composed of masterly illustrations and a deep, gnomic story … As for what Outside Over There means, it is important to know that Sendak was involved for years in psychoanalysis and described this book as ‘the excavation of my soul.’ As the title of Cott’s book suggests, ‘there’s a mystery there’ … Cott urges on his interlocutors with his own keen insights, and he quotes from Rumi, James Baldwin and dozens of others. Even for someone such as me, who has written about and taught Outside Over There for decades, new insights poured in so fast I sometimes had to put the book down and catch my breath.
[There's a Mystery There] is lazily written — it’s less a scholarly or journalistic essay than a kind of assemblage of Cott’s conversations with Sendak, and with various experts (including the psychoanalyst Richard M. Gottlieb and the Jungian analyst Margaret Klenck) about Sendak’s work ... What makes this volume worth reading, in the end, are Cott’s genuinely thoughtful insights into his subject’s work, and Sendak’s own wise, sometimes cantankerous musings about the relationship between words and pictures in illustrated books; the artists who inspired him (including Mozart, Melville, Blake and Emily Dickinson); and the kinetic dynamic between his life and art.
Cott is persuasive in drawing specific links between Sendak’s life and his work ... Unfortunately, Cott falters when he indulges in his own form of over-interpretation ... This wonderfully illustrated book is to be admired for honoring Sendak’s achievements, but it also inadvertently affirms Sendak’s own view, quoted here, of who best appreciates his work: 'Despite the fact that I don’t write with children in mind, I long ago discovered that they make the best audience.'
It is this man — the man who claimed the picture book as his ‘battleground’ — and the books in which his wars are won that Jonathan Cott explores in There’s a Mystery There, an intelligent, provocative literary study … Cott seamlessly interweaves readings of Sendak’s working process and final products, allowing them to reciprocally illuminate each other: The ‘companion guides’ are used deftly to open possibilities without dogmatism. Images from Sendak’s books are reproduced in profusion. Poring over them is a pleasure in itself. Poring over them in this company profoundly deepens our appreciation of the power of art to help us bravely face our monsters, transform them and emerge ourselves transformed.
Cott’s project is to rescue Sendak’s masterpiece from its parentally sidelined position in his oeuvre and at the same time give a popular makeover to its recondite treatment by various academic sects. The striven-for effect is casual dialogue on heady ideas; the book consists of lengthy transcriptions of interviews with particularly knowledgeable interlocutors. The reader is meant to feel like a fly on the wall...Don’t get me wrong. There is a satisfyingly great mystery here. It is one about how a deceptively simple work transcends the very explanations it begets. In other words, the mystery of art itself. If one or two of the thousand ships of inquiry launched by Outside Over There run aground (a bit much Jungian ballast in the hold), Maurice Sendak still provides the widest ocean of imagination to freely sail.
...[a] splendid book ... Fascinating and compellingly readable as all of this is, there remains something ineffable about Sendak’s work, for, yes, when all is said and done, there is a mystery there, one that Cott conveys beautifully.
Cott is an erudite, sensitive observer, exceedingly well-prepared to engage readers on the title’s (and creator’s) mystique ... With minimal redundancy, the voices culminate to illuminate an extraordinarily rich picture book, provide fresh insight into human needs, and inspire appreciation for the rewards of looking closely.