grist

 

Tuesday, October 04, 2005
And here I was thinking I was keeping up as a stealthy month glides past. Too much work, and the start of school, a lovely fall, the days both full and empty. I have two, so i'll be brief, but both are excellent.

James Salter's Light Days is a novel of the sort that I have been, in the past, reductively lukewarm towards--closely observed shifts of relationship in otherwise unexceptional lives. And yet it is dazzling. The writing has an almost-ponderous fullness, as if he paused at the end of each sentence and said to himself "what is everything this next sentence could possibly say?" It is rich, and beautiful, like this:

You are not obscure, they told him. You have friends. people admire your work. He was, after all, a good father--that is, an ineffective man. Real goodness was different, it was irresistible, murderous, it had victims like any other aggressions, in short, it conquered. We must be vague, we must be gentle, we are killing people otherwise, whatever our intentions, we are crushing them beneath a vision of light. It is the idiot, the weakling, he thought, the son who has failed; once beyond that there is no virtue possible.

Night falls. The cold lies in the fields. The grass turns to stone. In bed, he lay like a man in prison, dreaming of life.


Salter gets 4 stars--and I have just had his book Dusk recommended also, so stay tuned for more Salter (though I didn't think much of his book Solo Faces).

Here is the opening of Light Days:

We dash the black river, its flats smooth as stone.

The second book is Jim Crace's Being Dead. If there is another love story half as beautiful that opens with the lovers brutally murdered, I have never read it. Being Dead is a tricky book, because it starts out on the high wire and shouts "Look! Look!" The book opens with the savage beating to death of an old couple, and its action takes place over the 6 or so days until their bodies are discovered--during which time they decompose. And yet, and yet, without calling us to look away, or to imagine other worlds, but just by looking at this one in exquisite, precise language and with great generosity of spirit, Crace writes a rich and lovely book--pulls off his highwire act (3.5 stars--might deserve 4, but for my poor attention in the reading...)

Here is Crace's opening:
For old times' sake, the doctors of zoology had driven out of town that Tuesday afternoon to make a final visit to the singing salt dunes at Baritone Bay.



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