Collaborators Elizabeth Cooperman and Thomas Walton gather impressions from the ruinous streets in and around Rome. The result is a literary mosaic that aligns itself with the ecstatic baroque of Bernini, the concentrated vision of Caravaggio, and the sublime uncertainty of Keats, as it resists the forces of "another dark age."
The book’s a marvelous feat, one that swirls around mystically and temporally. It is filled with context and subtext, direction and floatation, movement and stasis, evidence and obscurity ... it’s a beautiful and hearty record of the encounters in that multifaceted, multicultural place. The zoom that fills the spaces between each image, however, is on the historic and on the complex ... despite the rigid consistency of form (on the higher level) of The Last Mosaic and its writing, the flexibility of content is arousing and not nervous or tense ... throughout, the reader is challenged by the authors and where they can find sense and grounding amidst flash upon flash of their inspiration. Whether it’s identifying the relatively quiet morning moments or discovering an absurdly extraordinary pool of turtles, these triggering moments are exquisitely spliced throughout the otherwise rhetorical and didactic process of the book ... the book feels as solidified and territorial as geography itself.
This kind of patchwork travel narrative—or, more aptly, mosaic—is a fantastic vehicle for describing a trip abroad. When we visit a city, we tend to come unmoored in time and space. We visit museums to learn about the past, we wander into heavily populated nightlife scenes to witness the present ... It’s easy to be dazzled by all the shiny fragments, but when you back up and admire Mosaic from a distance, you can see the narrative take shape. An argument forms, and the readers begin to understand what the authors discovered on their trip. That said, the co-authorship situation did confuse the reading experience a bit for me. The authors refer to themselves as 'I' without discerning who is speaking ... But maybe that's overthinking it ... Reading the non-book in the mortar lines between each fragment is far more rewarding than most travel books could ever hope to be.
Just as Rome is home to many, it is utterly exotic to others; each of these ideas threads through the book’s meditations, which offer critiques and praise of both contemporary and ancient life. Occasionally, the writers end their poems with unnecessary and didactic questions comparing the two. The book can be read as a series of poems or as a number of vignettes. But it is perhaps most useful to consider it by its own terms: as fragments that are beautiful in and of themselves, and which also function as a sum greater than its parts.