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In “All the Beauty in the World,” debut author Patrick Bringley presents a stunning meditation on time, relationships, and finding purpose. Bringley brings readers on a journey of ruminating in the stillness of his grief to reentering the busier, louder world – which he finds full of renewed meaning.
Bringley, a former staffer for the New Yorker magazine, begins his story by explaining his decision to quit his job after losing his older brother to cancer. As a result of his changed perspective after this devastating loss, Bringley intentionally steps away from his busy New York lifestyle to pursue a slower pace. He ultimately chooses to become a security guard at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Throughout the book, Bringley provides precious insights into the emotional mindset and events he experienced during his brother’s illness. Instead, he shares his life at the museum, beginning with simple observations of seemingly mundane moments of daily life. In painstaking detail, Bringley describes his first moments at the Met, getting to know coworkers and learning the different room assignments. For a less-skillful writer, this detail might bog down the writing. However, Bringley pays such compassionate attention to enlivening both his coworkers and his work that the detail only serves to augment the contemplative tone of the memoir. But most of all, he describes the art.
Bringley presents art museums as a haven for the world. He offers descriptions of art that may be too detailed for some readers. Some readers, though, may find that these intricate details draw them into the same pensive state of mind, the same thought processes that Bringley himself existed within. What “All the Beauty in the World” lacks in exclusive detail about Bringley’s personal life, it compensates for it in stunning insight into Bringley’s mental space. His humble awareness of self and others refreshes readers.
While reading about Bringley’s everyday life, time slows. Did all of Bringley’s days really pass in this dreamlike trance of tranquility and reflection?
“I feel that I’ve surrendered to the turtleish movement of a watchman’s time. I can’t spend the time. I can’t fill it, or kill it, or fritter it into smaller bits,” Bringley writes. “What might be excruciating if suffered for an hour or two is oddly easy to bear in large doses.”
“All the Beauty in the World” is a written testimony to the power of intentionally stepping out of the dizzying rush of life to take the time for stillness. Bound between the prose of a memoir, readers will find a love letter to art.
Bringley’s view uniquely balances the microscopic encounters in life with macroscopic details of the world. While he zooms out on time, looking at millennia and tracing patterns in history, he then zooms into one moment: one person’s facial expression, the question of a museum-going student, the paint strokes of a Picasso.
“I think sometimes we need permission to stop and adore,” he writes, “and a work of art grants us that.”
From a philosophical perspective, Bringley pulls the reader in, gently convincing them that life is not a race, that it need not be spent speeding towards some unreachable, unattainable goal. He offers that the best course of action at times may be admiring the stillness of silence.
Ultimately, Bringley’s writing paints a softer world. Bringley reflects, “On a typical day, it is easy to glance at strangers and forget the most fundamental things about them: that they’re just as real as you are; that they’ve triumphed and suffered; that like you they’re engaged in something (living) that is hard and rich and brief.”
His words and the art he describes elevate the mundane to the realm of the sacred: “I am sometimes not sure which is the more remarkable: that life lives up to great paintings, or that great paintings live up to life.”
Instead of choosing a darker path, Bringley chooses to look with greater love and care at all around him. He speaks with a great humility, noting that it’s a “fortunate” day that he “can look with love at the tired, preoccupied faces of strangers.”
Just when it seems the comforting silence will envelop all of life, Bringley begins to exit the museum bubble. He takes the reader along on the journey to find love, get married, and become a father. Slowly, noise trickles back into his life as his ever present grief begins to fade. As he builds a life with his new wife, he learns the joys and difficulties of fatherhood and he begins to feel a desire to expand his talents beyond the walls of the Met.
On the whole, Bringley offers precious insights into his private life. His conclusions by the end of the book display a remarkable maturity and depth of thought, as he recognizes a growth within himself, a purpose for life, and a time and a place for all things.
As he says, “Sometimes, life can be about simplicity and stillness, in the vein of a watchful guard amid shimmering works of art. But it is also about the head-down work of living and struggling and growing and creating.”
—Staff writer Sophia N. Downs can be reached at email@example.com.
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