Review: ‘The Point of Vanishing’ by Howard Axelrod

The Point of Vanishing. Howard Axelrod. Beacon. 211 pages. $16.
The Point of Vanishing. Howard Axelrod. Beacon. 211 pages. $16.

Howard Axelrod, 20-year-old golden boy — a junior at Harvard, summer job lined up editing for the “Let’s Go” travel books — stops by the gym to shoot hoops, and just like that, his life changes. A teammate’s finger in Axelrod’s right eye severs his optic nerve, blinding him permanently and wreaking havoc with his balance, perspective and the way he interacts with the world.

The new life, he writes, has “questions about the very nature of what is real, what is important, and what is worth living for. You have to answer them. You have no choice.”

His eventual solution is to withdraw from the world in order to figure it out anew, and his new place in it.

The Point of Vanishing (Beacon, 211 pages, $16) covers the two years that Axelrod lived in a rented cabin in a remote corner of the Vermont woods. This is not a lovely wilderness adventure; though the writing is achingly beautiful and his observations of the natural world keen, this book is tough. It is life and death. Axelrod withdraws from society, from his friends and family, and almost from the Earth itself.

“I wasn’t sure whether I was one step further away from reality or one step closer to it,” he writes.

Beautiful in its intensity and description, The Point of Vanishing is a breathtaking read.

Laurie Hertzel reviewed this book for the Star Tribune (Minneapolis).