Sunday in Ocean Park, Maine, brings me back to this infrequently tended garden of words and images that stretches back nearly a decade now. I’ve nothing specific or burning on my mind, except the desire to share this photo taken at my desk a few moments ago, and some words.
One reason I’m here, probably, is that I am reading a well-written novel.
James Salter’s All That Is, published last year, lures me to write by making it look so easy to render life fully, with loving precision, using only marks on a screen or paper. You can dip in anywhere and come up with prose like this:
The house was in sad disrepair. Bricks were piled at one side of it and the walkway to the front door was only half-finished, part brick and the rest dirt. Inside there was unpainted drywall that had been put up to replace the old plaster. Panes in the small windows to the cellar were open and Vivian could see a pile of empty bottles in there. They were Cook’s, she found out.
Not much has happened so far in this story, 38 percent of the way through on my Kindle. The protagonist, Philip Bowman, a navigation officer in the Pacific during World War II, works at a small book publishing house, marries a beauty named Vivian, travels to handsome places in Virginia and London, and meets many intriguing people, mainly the very well-off, generally acting poorly. I have typed into my Kindle a couple of cranky notes while reading All That Is, including this one at page 76: “This seems kinda boring. What is this book about, exactly?”
One could make the same complaint about real lives. When you’re in the middle of yours you wonder when it’s going to get interesting, when it will turn into a page-turner, a “sleep-stealer” as they call it in the U.K. (I see that Salter’s high prose is elevating my writing style this morning; I don’t generally write that “One could” this or that. I like it.)
What if, I thought, there isn’t a big plot unfolding in All That Is? What if it’s just the story of a guy’s life, told with appreciative precision and clarity? I can live with that. And if I let go of the expectation that this book will at some point turn into a Stephen King or John Grisham novel, I’m likely to enjoy it more. For one thing, there is no point in reading this book quickly. I might as well slow down and savor each paragraph, each sentence.
…Well, wouldn’t you know? As I read a few pages further, I came to something more than fine writing. Vivian has sent Bowman a shocking letter suggesting that they get a divorce. “Be honest, I’m not wrong, am I?” she writes (in italics but I’ll leave it in roman). “We really weren’t meant for each other. Maybe I’ll find the right man, maybe you’ll find the right woman, at least someone more suited to you.”
So I will keep reading this novel, perhaps finishing it today, this being the day of the week when I try to stay off the zap-zap Internet of updates, email, tweets, and news alerts.
The woman who I’m sure was meant for me, and me for her, is reading her pink-covered Kindle in bed here in the front room on the second floor of the cottage, the Yorkie Claire snuggled next to her head, one eye aimed at the eReader screen, as if she’s following along. I hear the surf, hidden from view by the pale green dune. Further out, a jet skier zips across my view like a bug on the water. A seagull flies by, going in the opposite direction.
And then it’s time for breakfast! Suddenly a blueberry pancake broke out…
My life, too, looks like a pretty good story today. I hope yours is, too.