Simply put, the best sentence(s) I’ve read this past week, presented out of context and without commentary.
I want my tombstone to read “She Lived Out Loud.”
The Perfect Son by Barbara Claypole White
Just now I can feel that little quivering of the pen which has always foreshadowed the happy delivery of a good book. --Emile Zola
Simon Watson, a young librarian, lives alone in a house that is slowly crumbling toward the Long Island Sound. His parents are long dead. His mother, a circus mermaid who made her living by holding her breath, drowned in the very water his house overlooks. His younger sister, Enola, ran off six years ago and now reads tarot cards for a traveling carnival. One June day, an old book arrives on Simon's doorstep, sent by an antiquarian bookseller who purchased it on speculation. Fragile and water-damaged, the book is a log from the owner of a traveling carnival in the 1700s, who reports strange and magical things, including the drowning death of a circus mermaid. Since then, generations of "mermaids" in Simon's family have drowned--always on July 24, which is only weeks away.The animation in the trailer is actually clay-on-glass media done by Lynn Tomlinson and it is, as I think I've said more than once, a gift to the eyes. Book trailers (or movie trailers, for that matter) don't always have to reveal themselves fully upon first watching. I like the way this one teases us, licks at our imaginations, and eventually leads us to explore the pages of Swyler's novel.
The Man from Bodie drank down a half bottle of the Silver Sun's best; that cleared the dust from his throat and then when Florence, who was a redhead, moved along the bar to him, he turned and grinned down at her. I guess Florence had never seen a man so big. Before she could say a word, he reached out and stuck his hand in the collar of her dress and ripped it down to her waist so that her breasts bounded out bare under the yellow light. We all scraped our chairs and stood up— none of us had looked at Florence that way before, for all she was. The saloon was full because we watched the man coming for a long time before he pulled in, but there was no sound now.The narrator is a middle-aged man named Will Blue who is the de facto mayor of Hard Times, a hardscrabble place one tumbling sagebrush away from a ghost town. Blue’s also a coward, and that makes all the difference to the fate—and eventual redemption—of the town and its residents. Blue must not only reconstruct his town, he has to rebuild his character. When one of the working girls Blue had tried to enlist into assassinating the Man from Bodie with a stiletto calls him on his cowardice, he is shaken to his core. Recovering from her severe burns, she summons Blue to her side:
This town was in the Dakota Territory, and on three sides—east, south, west—there is nothing but miles of flats. That's how we could see him coming. Most times the dust on the horizon moved east to west—wagon trains nicking the edge of the flats with their wheels and leaving a long dust turd lying on the rim of the earth. If a man rode toward us he made a fan in the air that got wider and wider. To the north were hills of rock and that was where the lodes were which gave an excuse for the town, although not a good one. Really there was no excuse for it except that people naturally come together.
“Take care of me Blue?” she said softly.As a reader, I’m paw-swiped as well. Just look at the tense juxtaposition at work in those words: “what a sweet smile it was, full of hate.” E. L. Doctorow sure knew how to boil his sentences, didn’t he?
“Yes Molly, if you allow.”
Still smiling she said “Mayor”—whispering so that I bent down and put my ear almost to her lips—“if I had that knife now I wouldn't drop it. I would stick it in you and watch the yellow flow.”
For a moment I didn't understand, I could not reconcile the words with the smile on her face. But I looked at her and saw what a sweet smile it was, full of hate, and I felt as if I had been swiped to the ground by the paw of a big cat.
We are being watched. That this statement probably no longer shocks is itself somewhat shocking. But ever since Edward Snowden revealed the NSA’s massive, clandestine surveillance program in June 2013, we’ve been inundated with news—seemingly every week—about yet another aspect of our once-thought-private lives that is now subject to some kind of scrutiny. Since the Snowden revelations, we’ve learned that the post-9/11 U.S. government or one of its allies has been reading our emails, listening to our phone calls, and watching nearly everything we do on the Internet—Facebook posts, Google searches, instant messages, World of Warcraft gaming sessions. Nothing is hidden, everything is on display.
The one human being she had ever fully and wholeheartedly trusted had failed her; the only man she had ever known to whom she could point and say with expert knowledge, “He is a gentleman, in his heart he is a gentleman,” had betrayed her, publicly, grossly, and shamelessly.It is more than Jean Louise can bear. There is frequent vomiting in the succeeding pages.
What was this blight that had come down over the people she loved? Did she see it in stark relief because she had been away from it? Had it percolated gradually through the years until now? Had it always been under her nose for her to see if she had only looked?
“You’ve got to make up your mind to one thing, Jean Louise. You’re gonna see change, you’re gonna see Maycomb change its face completely in our lifetime. Your trouble, now, you want to have your cake and eat it: you want to stop the clock, but you can’t. Sooner or later you’ll have to decide whether it’s Maycomb or New York.”Go Set a Watchman is, at heart, a novel of the Civil War; its combatants just wear different colored uniforms now.
In Maycomb, one drank or did not drink. When one drank, one went behind the garage, turned up a pint, and drank it down; when one did not drink, one asked for set-ups at the E-Lite Shop under cover of darkness: a man having a couple of drinks before or after dinner in his home or with his neighbor was unheard of. That was Social Drinking. Those who Drank Socially were not quite out of the top drawer, and because no one in Maycomb considered himself out of any drawer but the top, there was no Social Drinking.Or take these lines from when the Finch entourage goes to church:
There’s nothing like a blood-curdling hymn to make you feel at home, thought Jean Louise. Any sense of isolation she may have had withered and died in the presence of some two hundred sinners earnestly requesting to be plunged beneath a red, redeeming flood.The other forte of the novel comes in the many flashbacks involving Jean Louise’s brother Jem and a strange little boy named Dill (given name: Charles Baker Harris). Ms. Lee has a keen eye for capturing the joys, the hurts, and the confusions of childhood. In these scenes, summer afternoons stretch endlessly and are only broken by lemonade on the porch, playacting adventures from Tom Swift or re-staging a visiting minister’s church revival. The lush sentimentality in these scenes is warm and pleasurable. The childhood memories of Jean Louise (“Scout” as she was known then) are oases of enjoyment in Go Set a Watchman. One almost wishes Ms. Lee would write an entire novel set in the 1930s version of Maycomb. Maybe in her next novel.
He now knew that the pain of war, of the past two decades, of yesterday, would never recede all the way; the hurt simply finds new things to infect, things he has always loved—Christmas lights, interstate signs, hunting campfires, baseball games—but happiness and release also live somewhere among these things. He knew it was just a matter of finding them.
Jane died of leukemia on 22 April 1995. The disease was diagnosed in January of 1994, in a virulent form; chemotherapy could induce remission but could not sustain it, and only a bone marrow transplant (BMT) offered hope for extended life. In October of 1994, we flew to Seattle where the Fred C. Hutchinson Cancer Center takes on hard cases. A new marrow from an anonymous donor was infused on November 18th, Jane was discharged to a Seattle apartment December 20th, and we returned to New Hampshire with good hope on 24 February 1995.
For six weeks her blood counts improved. She was weak and impaired, as expected after a BMT; it would take a year for her to recover. She could read little, and she could not write because an anti-rejection drug disabled her fingers. Nevertheless, she began work on this book, proposed by Graywolf in November as she underwent the transplant. Jane wanted to omit early poems that she had later outdone, and slighter things from all her books. Following her directions, I photocopied selections from her books and assembled new uncollected poems; she had published six, and there were fourteen more in her study--more finished poems than she had remembered. She intended to complete the book as her strength came back. But on 11 April 1995, bloodwork revealed that leukemia had returned. There was nothing to do and she died eleven days later, at home in our bed as she wished.
In the first five days of her dying, we finished this book. I read her titles of poems selected and omitted. I read passages aloud when I argued for the inclusion of a poem she doubted....
Of the twenty finished new poems, only “Eating the Cookies” came after her illness, on the occasion of my mother’s death in March of 1994. In late May and early June....[Jane] enjoyed a good patch. Her mental and physical energy allowed her sessions at her desk. After readmission to the hospital, 21 June 1994, she finished no more poems.
She started one in March of 1995, back in New Hampshire before the leukemia returned, but she did not survive to finish it. On March 8th, with Jane slowly improving, I left her for eight hours. Our friend Mary Jane Ogmundson stayed with her, and Jane dictated a draft of “The Sick Wife.” Typed, it lay on a reading table beside her chair. On several occasions she dictated a revision, and a new draft replaced the old. She would have made more changes if she had lived. I put it here as her last word.