"The Vanished" by RC Binstock

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In “The Vanished,” author RC Binstock melds two narratives into one memorable story. In it he recounts the slow, halting recovery of a family still trying to find its footing a year after suffering a horrifying, life-altering tragedy. This matching of two disparate arcs delivers a striking tale of hope and regeneration.

Malcolm and Aaron, brothers in the Bernard family of Boston, each struggle in their own way to cope with the wrenching loss of their sister Barbara and her two small children, who died when their airliner exploded over the North Atlantic. The health of their parents, Dan and Naomi, begins to fail under the strain. And Barbara’s widowed husband James goes to ground in England, frightening two families, and adding to the strain.

In another narrative vein, Binstock aims his considerable talents at the trials of the 19th Century French master, the artist Jean-François Millet. An artist who gained renown in his lifetime for scenes of peasant life, but whose reputation was fodder for critics and political theorists, produced a handful of works mentioned in the novel, and which bear strongly on the author’s design and intent. 

Throughout the modern-day events of this novel, the lost loved ones haunt the survivors the way only such victims can. Malcolm, the oldest sibling, faces paralyzing fears about future events outside his control. So much so that he cannot proceed in his work as a sculptor and art professor. The scene where his prodigal black-sheep brother Aaron shows up at his house and the two a night-enshrouded rapprochement is one of the most memorable in the book. It contains a frankness, an energy, and a tenderness in which the brothers display every palette in the spectrum of family relations.

Through Malcolm, the artist and aesthete, we see the works of Millet, stunning and evocative, at this remove in time. Millet has no political agenda, paints no symbols, other than forgettable early-career devotional work, but only wished to portray the world and the people in his native Normandy. Events and themes echo across the decades: Malcolm is enthralled by Millet’s vision of the open horizon of the limitless sea (see The End of the Hamlet of Gruchy by Millet), but in Millet’s own life, a painting of a devout couple taking a prayer break while sowing a field (see The Angelus) takes on the most weight.

The work of this painter, winnowed down by the author to two emblematic works, lend depth, interest, and cogent comment on the latter-day events of loss and redemption. This scheme reveals to us a clever and persuasive storyteller at full power. This is a lovely and redemptive read.