grist

 

Sunday, February 12, 2006
Once more, a flurry of reading--too much business travel provides some small consolation for the airport hours and the stale air. I am still digesting DH Lawrence's Apocalypse (best line:'What the ass wants is carrots...').

In its place, twin James'.

James #1: James Lasdun's The Horned Man was an excellent, meaty thriller--one of those books so fluid you don't really notice you're reading until you are halfway through and then the book already seems far too short. Lasdun does a fine job of building dread--setting traps--masking decisions of consequence in ordindary choices. It's got surprising heft hidden inside its streamlined, precise story--beautiful, smart writing, some great scences and a relentless pace. It reminded a lot of Paul Auster's New York Trilogy, though less abstract and absurd--it takes a surreal turn at the end, which is surprising and, with some digesting, quite good. Three stars.

One afternoon earlier this winter, in a moment of idle curiousity, I took a book from the shelf in my office and began reading it where it fell open on a piece of compressed tissue that had evidently been used as a bookmark.

James #2: I've gushed in the past and James Salter, and I'm not stopping now. I blasted through his recent story collection Last Night; his writing is so complex--every sentence like a blow that hits--he hits and hits and hits. (And for someone who professes not much love for the short story, I seem to be finding and liking them of late). Salter's stories are all about marriage, fidelity and its lack, about moments of disintegration and the memories of happiness that lie behind them.
--I'd never steal anyone's man, Adele said then. Never. Her face had a tone of weariness when she drank, a weariness that knew the answer to everything. And I'd never break a vow.
--I don't think you would, Phil said.
--I'd never fall for a twenty-year-old, either.
--No, you wouldn't.
--He left his wife, Adele told them.
There was silence.
Phil's bit of smile had gone but his face was still pleasant.
--I didn't leave my wife, he said quietly. She threw me out.
--He left his wife and children, Adele said.
--I didn't leave them. Anyway it was over between us. It had been for more than a year. He said it evenly, almost as if it had happened to someone else It was my son's tutor, he explained. I fell in love with her.
--And you began something with her? Morrissey suggested.
--Oh, yes.
There is love when you lose the power to speak, when you cannot even breathe.
--Within two or three days, he confessed.
--There in the house?
Phil shook his head. He had a strange, helpless feeling. He was abandoning himself.
--I didn't do anything in the house.
--He left his wife and children, Adele repeated.
--You knew that, Phil said.
--Just walked out on them. They'd been married fifteen years, since he was nineteen.
--We hadn't been married fifteen years.
--They had three children, she said, one of them retarded.
Something had happened--he was becoming speechless, he could feel it in his chest like a kind of nausea. As if he were giving up portions of an intimate past.
--He wasn't retarded, he managed to say. He was....having trouble learning to read, that's all.
At that instant an aching image of himself and his son from years before came to him. They had rowed one afternoon to the middle of a friend's pond and jumped in, just the two of them. It was summer. his son was six or seven. There was a layer of warm water over deeper, cooler water, the faded green of frogs and weeds. They swam to teh far side and then all the way back, the blond head and anxious face of his boy above the surface like a dog's. Year of joy.
--So tell them the rest of it, Adele said.


Painful and lovely. Some of the stories feel (are) slight, but some are so compressed that you can't imagine them being sustained for a novel--they must relent at some point. More Salter is on the docket, once the blizzard here lifts.

One odd outside note: I went yesterday in search of reading down to my local bookstore (Porter Square Books in Cambridge, MA) and it was at the center of a maelstrom of ambulances, fire trucks, cops, yellow tape. Someone had driven their huge white SUV over a parking sign and through the front winow of the store, coming to rest in a pile of twisted metal and glass half in and half out of the little cafe. I did not see injured people, but at least one ambulance had left by the time I arrived. The store is in the corner of a cramped parking lot that is invariably crowded--which is to say that there is no way to build up a head of steam and accidentally end up driving through the storefront. It's possible that someone could have had some kind of seizure and jammed their accelerator down. But it seemed more likely that it had been intentional somehow, and I have been puzzling the intent all day. The store is pleasant and unpretentious--the staff genuinely helpful, with none of the condescension that would seem inevitable in the confluence of Cambridge and independent bookstore.

I have been digging around for a news story, but so far there is nothing--the blizzard has knocked everything else off the news. It seems to be an act of outsize violence to pass unnoticed, but so far remains a mystery. If anyone knows, please tell me--it's killing me...



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