Books

Monday, July 18, 2011

Not Quite Back to the Drawing Board

I leave Paris tomorrow for New Jersey, for home, and to get back to work. Though I have been working all along. The habit is so ingrained that I can't miss a day without some form of scribbling; it is my hand that takes over, it is a dog that needs its walk.

I have written in England and France with the lift afforded by a new place, and happily I have been gripped with a craving for excellent books. Oh, I always am, but I cannot always sink into the lusciousness of reading in my own odd and private way, nor can I be subjective and strange about it. At school I need to be dispassionate to some degree, and instructive, rhythmic, on a deadline. This private reading though--I have been overcome with the luscious feeling I had when I was a girl. This is one of the best aspects of the trip.

The stimulation began when I read The Year of Magical Thinking, by Joan Didion. I have resisted it until now, and suddenly I had to have it for the plane. Before, I couldn't bear to read of Joan's grief; nor could I manage reading about the death of her only child (not in the book, after all), to have that fear stoked by a great writer. But it carried me across the ocean and got in bed with me at night at my friend Tom's house. I realized why I'd wanted it--her prose. I remembered it as being mordant and stark. It still is. She has such a strong distinct style that it nearly trumped the subject matter. Nearly.

I'd forgotten her tropes, the repetition of sentences or phrases, the predilection for beginning sentences and paragraphs naming the street where she lived in a particular year, the 1950s diction when speaking of the publishing and film industries ( a tic that sounds dated now, rather than ironic). All of this is intact, and her book would be recognizable as hers within a page. I read such a stylist for the style--it is an exercise in swimming. Lines stick. How long has it been since I read Play It As It Lays, or Slouching Toward Bethlehem? Decades. Yet I remember lines--lines that prove shape is meaning. Her is my line from his book: "He waited every night to eat with me." It encapsulates the entire book. It is particularly shaped for maximum poignance. He waited. What he did. Grief belongs to the remembrance of action, not thought.

The next book--a fantastic treat, all the more because I didn't know it. Sarah Salway gave me The Pilgrim Hawk, by Glenway Wescott. Oh, I fell for this one instantly. It is exactly my favorite kind of novel; short, compressed in time (an afternoon), the plot set completely by character, unguessable, and lifting up and up with gorgeous sentences. I completely lost myself to it and read it in my own weird way of reading, skipping to the end just after I found I loved the writing at the beginning, rereading some pages five times before moving on, sleeping on top of it, forcing myself to stay awake to be with it, and so on. My girl habits. I bow to this book. It is deeply creepy and mysterious, passion written about dispassionately. What is the truth about that dispassionate narrator? That was what hurt me after all; how often everyone is forced to be dispassionate, when it is never true. The narrator is a failed novelist--that is his dispassion. That, too, is a grief, but when portrayed so excellently, it is curious. I am curious.

Last night I couldn't sleep even for a moment. Over and over I turned, thinking of major shifts. When I couldn't bear the consequences I imagined I jumped on the Ipad and ordered books. Today I returned to an English language bookstore three times (Parisian hours!) to buy more books for the plane. I am checking out to check up, stay up. Writing, too. Am I cool, dispassionate? I don't know.

1 comment:

  1. I loved Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking, one of my favorite memoirs of all time. I liked her crisp, confident voice, the way she wove facts and analysis with scenes. It was overwhelmingly sad to imagine being in her position...I liked your summation, Alice, "Grief belongs to the remembrance of action."

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