Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘literature’

_MG_0059

Perhaps ten years ago now I was shopping for zinnia seeds to plant in front of my mom’s house in Irvington. On a whim, I grabbed a packet of large brown seeds, only five or six to a packet. From the photo on the front these flowers looked much like the blue morning glories I would be growing, except they were white. So it was with these modest expectations that I planted all the seeds and awaited the results. As the summer wore on, I confess, those special brown seeds slipped my mind. I had plenty of vines, and eventually there were beautiful sky blue flowers gracing the railings of my mom’s front porch every morning. I couldn’t have been more delighted with the results. One day I stepped out onto that porch near sunset, and was nearly knocked over by the sight of the largest and most exquisitely gorgeous silky moon-white and fragrant flower I had ever laid eyes on. It was nearly as large as my face, and I immediately took some selfies with it. It was huge, and it was beautiful, and I had forgotten I planted the thing and so it was beyond any and all expectations that I had formed and then forgotten over the course of the growing season. It was a bonus miracle.

I tried growing moonflowers during some of the following summers in other gardens, and met with no success. This past summer however, once again living back in Irvington and just a few blocks from my mom’s front porch of days past, I tried moonflowers one more time. Again, I thought I had failed. Again, one unsuspecting evening, I strolled out onto my deck and was struck by the radiance of a delicate beauty veritably glowing from within the flourishing tangle of morning glory vines. Another miracle, at last! I was blessed with a few more moonflowers over the next several days, and I savored them all. Perhaps there is something in the air here in Irvington that makes this type of magic thrive. Once you see and smell one of these gorgeous entities for yourself you will understand what I mean. And when you do you will start planting moonflower seeds too.

In the meantime I will let Jetta Carleton do the describing, in this excerpt from her novel, The Moonflower Vine. Perhaps someday I will get to see a show such as this:

“The watch resumed. Soon, now, a stem would tremble, a faint shudder run through the vine, sensed more than seen. A leaf twitched. No, you imagined it. But yes, it moved! A light spasm shook the long pod. Slowly at first, then faster and faster, the green bud unfurled, the thin white edges of the bloom appearing and the spiral ascending, round and round and widening till at last the white horn of the moonflower, visible for the first time in the world, twisted open, pristine and perfect, holding deep in its throat a tiny jewel of sweat.

…The vine stormed to life, and the blooms exploded— five, twelve, a torrent of them, tumbling their extravagant beauty into the evening air.

…The big spendthrift blooms extended themselves, stretched tight as the silk on parasols. In the dusk they would glimmer weakly, limp and yellowed as old gloves after a ball. But not now. Now the starred blossoms burned white against the dark vine and filled the air with the sweet, faintly bitter scent of their first and last breath.”

Read Full Post »

Edgar_sawtelle-cvr

I can’t remember when exactly I sat down with The Story of Edgar Sawtelle and first began to read. I know it was bitterly cold outside, and very snowy, so it could have been anywhere between Christmas and April. I do know that, when I finally put the book down, months later, I felt a little melancholy, and a little lonely, and I couldn’t quite bring myself to pick up another book for several days. I missed Edgar, and I missed his dogs, and I missed the contemplative and unhurried way in which the moments of his story moved forward with each moment I found to take another look at it.

Sure, this novel has flaws. Seen as a whole in retrospect, I can understand why many people seem to hate the plot contrivances and the frustrations of not having key elements of the story resolved. There’s a lack of closure that seems inconsiderate to the reader, and I suspect that those who are most disappointed in Edgar’s story are the ones who held the highest expectations from the beginning paragraphs. I myself couldn’t quite resolve my conflicted emotions, and I wavered between giving the novel first four stars, then three, then again bumping it back up to four, and subsequently leaving it there even though I have misgivings about my generosity in the matter.

I will say this: parts of this book deserve four stars, no doubt about it. And parts of this book are so meditatively wonderful that I wish they would go on forever. But like all things, good or bad, those parts come to an end. Perhaps that is part of the appeal: to be torn between loving the book and wishing it were just a little bit…better. Ambivalence is a big part of life, after all.

Of course Edgar is the protagonist of the novel, and we grow to trust him and love him even in his darkest moments. But the real star of this novel, in my opinion, is undoubtedly the old soul of Almondine, Edgar’s lifelong canine companion. Almondine has a few brief chapters in which she tells her side of the story, and these stand out to me as the life blood of the entire 562 pages. I’ve never read anthropomorphic literature that was so stirring and, at the same time, so convincing of a creature’s very nature. Almondine’s voice is undoubtedly canine, and touching in a way that perhaps only a dog-lover can appreciate. All I can say is that I was charmed from the moment when Almondine meets Edgar for the first time as a newborn infant fresh from the hospital.

In honor of Almondine’s words (and David Wroblewski’s genius if belated decision to include her unique point of view), I will leave you with some of my very favorite quotes from The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. If you ever have an endlessly snowy winter to get lost in a quiet and meandering tale, I would recommend you give it a look.

p.194, “Places, time, weather–all these drew him up inside of her. Rain, especially, falling past the double doors of the kennel, where he’d waited through so many storms, each drop throwing a dozen replicas into the air as it struck the waterlogged earth. And where the rising and falling water met, something like an expectation formed, a place where he might appear and pass in long strides, silent and gestureless. For she was not without her own selfish desires: to hold things motionless, to measure herself against them and find herself present, to know that she was alive precisely because he needn’t acknowledge her in casual passing; that utter constancy might prevail if she attended the world so carefully. And if not constancy, then only those changes she desired, not those that sapped her, undefined her.”

and Edgar’s thoughts:

p. 457, “Life was a swarm of accidents waiting in the treetops, descending upon any living thing that passed, ready to eat them alive. You swam in the river of chance and coincidence. You clung to the happiest accidents–the rest you let float by.”

And finally, again, the ever-delightful Almondine:

p. 461, “She slowed. The farm danced about her. The apples trees bickered with the wind, clasped limbs in union against it, blackbirds and sparrows and chickadees and owls rimming their crowns. The garden cried out its green infant odor, it’s melange the invention of deer or, now it seemed to her, the other way around. The barn swung her fat shadow across the yard, holding it gently by dark wrists and letting it turn, turn, stretch out in the evening upon the ground but never slip. Faster it all revolved around her when she closed her eyes. Clouds rumbled across heaven and she lay beneath, and in the passage of shadow and yellow sunlight, the house murmured secrets to the truck, the traveler, who listened for only so long before its devout empiricism forced it away in wide-eyed panic to test such ideas among its fellows. The maple tree held the wash up to the light in supplication and received (bright flames) yellow jackets each day, its only reply. The mailbox stood soldierly by the road, capturing a man and releasing him, again and again.”

Read Full Post »