Audubon’s Watch

Written by John Gregory Brown
Review by Marcia K. Matthews

The novel begins with John James Audubon addressing his daughters with textural detail that draws us into the scene by our senses. He explains about the three-dollar watch he bought aboard a flatboat to New Orleans. He rambles, talking about the myriad birds he had shot and sketched. He introduces the subject of Dr. Gautreaux, in mourning for his wife, who turns out to be the subject of Audubon’s portrait–and passionate flirtation.

In Chapter Two we switch to Dr. Gautreaux’s point of view. He rhapsodizes over his wife Myra. The aging anatomist receives a letter from Audubon. He puts it into his pocket without reading it. Both men reflect on the death watch over Myra’s corpse and are appalled at their own macabre passion. Gautreaux finally reads the letter and learns that Audubon is dying and wishes to see him. He prepares for the journey.

The story continues, in alternating chapters narrating the history of each, in lyrical prose as they try to solve the mystery of Myra’s untimely death. Since both voices speak in archaic style, it is at times difficult to distinguish them. The reader needs to reorient herself each chapter, and the switch begins to seem mannered. Brown provides motive, means and suspects for what may have been murder, but leaves many threads untied.