Wednesday, February 10, 2010

`Such Tiny Motions'

A recurrent fantasy: renting a hall, calling my friends (“real” and “virtual” – tell me the difference), and reading aloud my favorite book of the moment. Everyone listens raptly – guffawing and weeping at all the right places, no snores or coughs. My voice never falters, my listeners never nod.

Instead, I blog.

A reader in New York City, whose existence I never suspected before Tuesday, writes:

“. . . now seems to be a good time to tell you how very much I enjoy your blog. I have just printed out `The Shaft’ & the Kay Ryan poem. I will probably read the Kay Ryan at the memorial of a close friend next month . . . Occasionally your entries are over my head, but most days they are apposite to something I have read. My husband & I just finished reading five Chekhov short novels aloud, so I love what you have to say about C.”

As I told her, Chekhov is an ideal candidate for reading aloud. His prose is plain-spoken, even in translation, never artsy or pretentious but nicely nuanced. Lots of room for interpretive – not over-emotive – reading, and his sense of comedy would become, at last, undeniable. He was, after all, a very funny playwright. Readers seem less willing to admit the same about his stories.

Another reader, this one a friend in Houston, also writes:

“I read Ryan's poem and burst into tears. I could feel it coming as soon as I read the word `knob.’ It's quite likely this has something to do with menopause . . . . . but still that's pretty good writing. I just finished William Trevor's Love and Summer, which I loved. It reminded me of [William] Maxwell a little, the way so much is revealed in such tiny motions. Like reaching for the same knob for decades. It's easy to forget that those tiny motions are still there under the river of garbage that's constantly washing over us.”

I reread Maxwell’s Time Will Darken It last week and remain convinced it, with So Long, See You Tomorrow, stands as his supreme achievement. Since I haven’t rented a hall, let me read you this passage from the novel:

“The world (including Draperville) is not a nice place, and the innocent and the young have to take their chances. They cannot be watched over twenty-four hours a day. At what moment, from what hiding-place, the idea of evil will strike, there is no telling. And when it does, the result is not always disastrous. Children have their own incalculable strength and weakness, and this, for all their seeming helplessness, will determine the pattern of their lives. Even when you suspect why they fall downstairs, you cannot be sure. You have no way of knowing whether their fright is permanent or can be healed by putting butter on the large lump that comes out on their forehead after a fall.”

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