Wednesday, April 30, 2008

'The Tiny One' ...

So here we are, April 30th, the end of the month, and I have yet to finish a novel.

A quick scan of my bookshelves didn't yield a novel tiny enough to cram in tonight.

In that way, I have failed. Mercurie challenged me to read one book of fiction per month in 2008 because he thinks we just don't read for pleasure enough anymore. But I'm still working my way through Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal. I really do like it. I just haven't been into reading lately. Maybe because I spend my entire day reading for work, reading and editing. So that by the time World News with Charles Gibson rolls around and I shut down my laptop for the evening, the last thing I want to do is look at more words.

But in the spirit of at least posting about a book I've read, even if I haven't read it recently, I offer up this past post, written nearly three years ago, so it's ripe for the resurrecting:

I don't like everything I read.

I have a lot of respect for writers, authors of books. A book. It's such a big thing to accomplish. The writing, the rewriting, enduring editing. But in the end, when it's published, to be part of the world of published authors ... It's one of my goals in life. A book with my name on the spine.

I love picking a new book. I've never lost that grade-school sensation. Library day was always a big deal for me. I loved the library at my elementary school. There were hot spots: Girls knew right where to head each week to see if they could score a Judy Blume book (across from the librarian's desk) and the National Geographics were by the door leading out to the playground. You could tell which issues had pictures of bare-breasted African women or naked men. They were always well-thumbed.

So each time I pick up a new book, I'm eager to love it. Sometimes, I'm drawn in from the first sentence: The characters beckon and don't let go ("She's Come Undone" by Wally Lamb springs to mind). Sometimes, I can't bear to see a book end (if "Memoirs of a Geisha" had a bibliography, I would have read it; anything to not have to come to the endpaper). Sometimes, I'm disappointed, but think that if I read long enough, a book will redeem itself, and by the time I realize that that just won't be the case, I'm often so far along that I can't bear to not finish, but sometimes the notion that by reading the drivel at hand I am wasting time in which I could be reading something else, something I'd really care about, wins out and I close a book, unfinished ("The Fourth K" by Mario Puzo is one such let-down).

A couple months ago, before a business trip, I perused my bookshelves for a book for the plane. Plane books must be paperback, not too thick, trade-size, please. I pulled one off the shelf and read the first page. Then another. Then another. I eventually found the right book.

When I got on the plane, I settled in with my new book and started to read. I was rapt. Amazing writing, some of the best use of simile and metaphor I'd ever envied. Many pages in – sixty or so, I believe – I turned the page and thought, "Well, that doesn't make sense." Flipped back. Read. Turned the page. Continued reading. Nope. Made no sense. But maybe the author had something in mind. I read on. Then it happened again. And again. And I realized the pages were in the wrong order.

Can you imagine? The book I was reading was a debut novel. It was a review copy from a publishing house, but it wasn't a galley. It was a finished copy. Can you imagine the horror of your first book hitting the shelves with the pages in the wrong order?

I was sad. It was too hard to flip through the book to find the proper pages, so I put the book away. The rest of the flight was boring.

A few weeks ago, I picked up a new copy of the book, flipping through it in the bookstore to check the turns (end of one page, beginning of the next) to make sure everything flowed. It did. I bought it.

I'm reading it now. Enchanted as I was the day on the plane. "The Tiny One" by Eliza Minot.

I don't tend to read books more than once. But I find myself turning to this tome over and over. Not to read entirely, but to skim. I've read the first chapter at least five times. The first couple chapters, actually.

If you're like me, when contemplating a new book, you read the first page. Allow me to present it here, to tempt you. Actually, let me present the first chapter. It's very short:

Via Revere. She's just a kid in the morning except that she's sitting still on her bed in the thick of the far-gone winter with her mouth parted open like a grown woman's in thought. Life's got her for the first time pinned up against a wall, open-mouthed. But other than her mouth, and her stillness, the rest of her's pure kid, but stunned. She's slouched and static, puffy-eyed, staring at the rug where it meets the wood floor. She's sitting waiting, lopsided, dumbstruck, not even thinking yet what to think.

Her mother would have put her in the gray flannel or Black Watch plaid dress. Instead Via's wearing an Easter dress that curdles, but nicely, with the raw winter surrounding her. Its white cotton is springlike, clean and pleated, cool over her dark wool tights. Lavender smocking is embroidered across her chest, and her young fresh head grows up out of the starched scalloped collar that petals at her neck. Her hair's got so much static that she can feel it clinging silky to her cheek, buzzing, tickling at the side of her chapped mouth.

One of the cats jumps up beside her and arches to rub along her arm. She pats it without looking at it and with her electricity gives it a little shock so the kitty twitches its whiskers but keeps purring. Via twitches too, her eye, but keeps staring.

She's just a kid and it's morning but nothing's the same. Everything's different now. She's at the beginning of a new chapter. she's perched at the edge of a new era. Grief has been born boring into her soft ripe life full of cartwheels and digging with sticks, leaves and laughter, sky and light, her mother's face and jumps in the air. Grief's been injected like a strange sedative that has the opposite effect—it wakes you up. It's jarred her like shaking her shoulders. It has her. The grizzle of life has rattle her numb. It's like she's been whacked in the head out of laughter and now she sits alone on her bed, looking out, in awe at anything, in awe at everything, stunned.

Hearing the news is like this: The day was like other days and then it happened. Then the news came like those film clips where huge buildings sway gracefully to the ground like someone's sucking them down with a vacuum. It's a whirl of air. It's a night of movement with billowing as the darkness is go everything go, everything moves, disheveled and alive, rushing with sound. Then suddenly it's silent. It's like the sound has been turned off but you're watching a storm. The trees bend like slingshots and the leaves tornado up into the air. Where is the sound? And then it is over.

Then it is over and it's morning. You've heard the news. You'd almost rather hear it again—fresh—than begin a life with what you know now. It is morning. It is a morning when everything is hit white-yellow and windows of buildings shine in dull flashes. The windshields of slowly moving cars turn weak sun in your eyes. You wince. You feel like a fever that's petrified.

It's her older sister Marly's voice at the door behind her. "You ready?"

The it's her father. "All set?"

They're in the door together but Via doesn't want to turn around to see.

Marly comes and sits beside her. "All set?" she says, like her father just did.

Via nods. She pats the cat Puddle and listens to the purring. "She's purring," Via says.

"Come on," says Marly, nudging her. Marly heads toward the bureau. "I'll get you a sweater."

"No," says Via.

"No what?"

"No sweater."

"You'll freeze, V."

"I don't think I will."

"Well you think wrong," says Marly. "Look at it out there."

Via looks up from the floor to look out the window. She doesn't remember yesterday. Today looks like it's trying to snow.

"I want to stay here with Puddle," Via says.

Marly goes over to her. Marly squats down and looks at her little sister in the eye. "You want to stay with Puddle?" Marly asks her.

Via nods.

"It's not time to go yet," says Marly. "Want me to come get you when it's time to go?"

Via nods again. "Yeah," she says. She's patting Puddle.

Marly kisses Via's forehead as she's standing up. "We'll all be right downstairs if you want to come down," Marly tells her. "Okay?"

" ’Kay," says Via.

When Marly leaves, Via looks back up out the window while she listens to Puddle purr. It's as white as can be out there. Only the rattly knuckled trees are dark and still against the icy snow that's beneath them and behind them. Above the world is a long white sky, open and bare.

The rest of the book is told from Via's perspective, which is what makes me marvel at this novel. That Minot captures, so brilliantly, the goings on of a young girl's mind, a young girl trying to comprehend that her mother has just died.

I'm not giving anything away there. The second chapter begins, "Mum's dead forever."

I'll let you pick it up from there.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Evidently you've never read James Agee's "A Death in the Family."

12:37 PM  

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