Last night I had the strangest dream I ever dreamed before I dreamed the world had all agreed To put an en
Silent Night in No Man's Land: Christmas, 1914
Last night I had the strangest dream I ever dreamed before I dreamed the world had all agreed To put an end to war I dreamed I saw a mighty room The room was filled with men And the paper they were signing said They'd never fight again
And when the papers all were signed And a million copies made They all joined hands and bowed their heads And grateful prayers were prayed And the people in the streets below Were dancing round and round And guns and swords and uniforms Were scattered on the ground
Last night I had the strangest dream I ever dreamed before I dreamed the world had all agreed To put an end to war
Ed McCurdy, 1950
Christmas Day, Flanders, 1914
Where have all the flowers gone? Long time passing Where have all the flowers gone? Long time ago-Pete Seger, 1955
There are no poppies blooming in Flanders' fields. It is winter. The ground has been churned to mud. Perhaps the last time anyone saw the poppies bloom was before the great war began in August, before the leave began to turn. When there were still trees.
Where have all the soldiers gone? Long time passing Where have all the soldiers gone?
It is nearing Christmas, 1914. Since the great war began a million soldiers have died. When will they ever learn? The generals, the Field Marshalls. Once again, the deadly efficiency of new weapons has overcome the outmoded tactics of previous wars. The soldiers on the front lines pay the price. Generals and Field Marshalls die in bed. It does not seem they ever learn. They do not pay the price.
I am seventeen. About to graduate High School. We have our Senior Banquet. I wear a blue blazer, pink shirt, white trousers, white bucks. I am thin, too thin, perhaps. The class song is "Those were the days." Mary Hopkins voice hauntingly floats over us all. We all sing with her.
Once upon a time there was a tavern Where we used to raise a glass or two Remember how we laughed away the hours And dreamed of all the great things we would do
Those were the days my friend We thought they'd never end We'd sing and dance forever and a day We'd live the life we choose We'd fight and never lose For we were young and sure to have our way. La la la la...
I thought I would do great things. I would become a history professor. I had scholarships to the University of Alabama. If I didn't get drafted and sent to Vietnam.
We didn't think much about it. It hadn't touched us much. Jennifer's brother was shot down, flying a Phantom F-4. We didn't know why she went screaming down the halls when the principal called her out of class till later.
That business about the tavern. I had sneaked some Strawberry Hill out in the country. Didn't smoke. Had a 1963 Olds Rocket 88 with a big back seat. Never got past second base. But it was sweet. Someday. Maybe, if I didn't get shipped home in a box. We did have student deferments.
What if they gave a war and nobody came? Why then the war would come to you!-Bertolt Brecht, 1930
Although Weintraub is a historian down to his toes, he has written a moving account of the Christmas Truce of 1914. Weintraub leaves the reader reeling with a series of evolving and ever more powerful emotions as he unveils this riveting history. The truce comes alive through the words of those who were there. The truce lives in the letters and diaries of Englishmen, Scots, Germans.
This is a tale of sadness and hope. The men who recount these strange days in the midst of war are able to recognize the humanity in one another that exists no matter one's language, origin, or government. It is all the more amazing because it occurred almost sua sponte, as the result of the actions of the men in the trenches, of their own volition, something that sent shudders up the ranks of authority to the centers of their governments.
Christmas Eve, 1914
The Garwhal Rifles, a Regiment of Indian troops, noticed a line of lights appearing atop the German trenches across from them. They were the candles on Christmas trees. Earlier one of their number had written home, "It is more than horror, it is the end of the world." Though they did not have Christmas trees, the Indians thought the lights reminiscent of their Diwali, the "Festival of Lights." Strange, but there was a peacefulness about it all. In their Diwali, it was a time of forgiveness, new beginnings, and a time for the exchanging of gifts. For a short time, they would see all this happen.
"Thus, Christmas, the celebration of Love, managed to bring mortal enemies together as friends for a time...I told them we didn't want to shoot on the Second Day of Christmas, either."--from the diary of Kurt Zemisch, 134th Saxons
"I wouldn't have missed that unique and weird Christmas Day for anything. ... I spotted a German officer, some sort of lieutenant I should think, and being a bit of a collector, I intimated to him that I had taken a fancy to some of his buttons. ... I brought out my wire clippers and, with a few deft snips, removed a couple of his buttons and put them in my pocket. I then gave him two of mine in exchange. ... The last I saw was one of my machine gunners, who was a bit of an amateur hairdresser in civil life, cutting the unnaturally long hair of a docile Boche, who was patiently kneeling on the ground whilst the automatic clippers crept up the back of his neck."
Signs appeared above the trenches on both sides of the lines. "Merry Christmas." Carols were sung. Troops poured out of the trenches and met in No Man's Land. They shook hands. Exchanged souvenirs, gifts, newspapers. The rain that had turned everything to mire had stopped. It turned cold and clear. There was a hard freeze. War took a holiday.
Christmas Day, 1914
It continued the next day. Christmas day. In different ways. Some units helped one another bury their dead. In other areas, men continued to mingle freely, exchanging gifts. There were seemingly incredible small world moments, an Englishman recognizing his former German barber who had been called home to serve the Fatherland. Regimental histories recorded soccer matches occurring in No Man's Land.
Footers, English and German, play the game
Boxing Day, The Second Day of Christmas, 1914
The truce remained in full force, though the upper echelons were beginning to rumble.
"Dear Mother, I am writing from the trenches. It is 11 o'clock in the morning. Beside me is a coke fire, opposite me a 'dug-out' (wet) with straw in it. The ground is sloppy in the actual trench, but frozen elsewhere. In my mouth is a pipe presented by the Princess Mary. In the pipe is tobacco. Of course, you say. But wait. In the pipe is German tobacco. Haha, you say, from a prisoner or found in a captured trench. Oh dear, no! From a German soldier. Yes a live German soldier from his own trench. Yesterday the British & Germans met & shook hands in the Ground between the trenches, & exchanged souvenirs, & shook hands. Yes, all day Xmas day, & as I write. Marvellous, isn't it?"-Private Henry Williamson, Age 19, London Rifle Brigade
German soldiers of the 134th Saxon Regiment and British soldiers of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment meet in no man's land, December 26, Boxing Day, 1914
Letters, uncensored at the time, were sent home. The letters were forwarded to newspapers where they were reprinted. The Christmas truce became public news.
Might the "Truce" be the beginning of the end of the war? It might have been. But, as we know, it was not. Strict orders were passed down from the highest command of all powers that any form of fraternization would be strictly disciplined. Any soldier found in possession of material belonging to another power was subject to punishment.
Not all soldiers and officers at the front during the Christmas truce of 1914 approved of it. No one should be surprised that the young Adolph Hitler did not. Hitler, a Corporal, had been awarded the Iron Cross, Second Class by Kaiser Wilhelm personally. In Mein Kampf, Hitler described the occasion as the happiest day in his life. Regarding the "Truce," Hitler said, "Such a thing should not happen in wartime. Have you no German sense of honor left at all?"
By New Year's, 1915, the Christmas truce was effectively over. It would continue until November 11, 1918. The death toll of combatants was four-thousand-six-hundred per day.
August 31, 1970
Well, come on generals, let's move fast; Your big chance has come at last. Now you can go out and get those reds 'Cause the only good commie is the one that's dead And you know that peace can only be won When we've blown 'em all to kingdom come-Country Joe McDonald, 1965
I turned eighteen on August 31, after I graduated from high school. My grandfather told me we had somewhere to go that morning. "Where," I asked. We were having coffee at the kitchen table. He shook his pack of Camel unfiltereds in my direction. His signal he had something to say. I took the cigarette that popped out the end of the pack, pecked an end of it on the placemat to pack the tobacco down and lit it with my Zippo.
"Well, Son, first we're gonna get you a haircut."
"I've been working. All summer. Like you wanted."
"Yes, you have. Stuck it out. All the men say you worked hard."
"So, what's up?" I knew what was up.
"You get your draft card today. Not going down there like a hippie."
It was the only fight we ever had. I got my hair cut. Got my draft card. Was always opposed to the war. My hair grew back and over my collar. I joined the Student Mobilization Committee. There's a yellowing photograph of me on the cover of the college paper on the steps of the old Student Union during a protest. I'm with Vietnam Veterans Against the War. A curious mix, some thought. But I was never against the soldiers.
As to the Class of Seventy, in due time, the war began to touch it. The lonely ones. The outcasts. The guys on the top row at the pep rallies. The ones on the smoking court. The fellows that didn't give a flip about their grades that took the vocational courses because they never planned to go to college. No deferments for them. First to go. Their names are on the wall in D.C. and on the monument downtown in front of the Courthouse.
Me? I was a fortunate son. Even though I was no Senator's son. I did not become a history professor, but a lawyer. I remain a student of history.
When will we ever learn? Probably never. But we can hope.
Why not Five Stars?
It's a beautiful read. One that will haunt the reader, linger in the memory long after the final page is turned. BUT...Weintraub engages in a lengthy chapter, "What if?" This chapter dulls the impact of the narrative that precedes it. It is an exercise in alternative history. What if a peace had been reached as a result of the Christmas Truce? While such exercises can fuel many a speculative conversation, we can hypothesize from now till death do us part. Would a Germany reaching a peace that left it in substantially all of the territory it occupied have prevented the Third Reich? We'll simply never know. The acts of those who were participants in the Christmas Truce should not be diminished by an anticlimactic exercise in speculation.
So....4.5 Stars. Highly recommended.
For a Magnificent Film about the Christmas Truce, I highly recommend "Joyeux Noel" which my wife and I watch each year.
Gatsby Among the Locusts: Stewart O'Nan's Novel of Fitzgerald in Hollywood
A copy of this novel was provided by Viking Adult through Netgalley in exchaGatsby Among the Locusts: Stewart O'Nan's Novel of Fitzgerald in Hollywood
A copy of this novel was provided by Viking Adult through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This novel will be published January 13, 2015.
"There are no second acts in American lives," F.Scott Fitzgerald, found among his notes to his last, unfinished novel, The Love of the Last Tycoon.
Stewart O'Nan has written a compelling novel of the last years of F. Scott Fitzgerald and his years in Hollywood. Told in a series of episodes, both in the days of the "Golden Age of Hollywood" and in flashbacks of Fitzgerald's memories of his life during the Jazz Age with his Southern beauty, Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald, O'nan captures the portrait of a man who recognizes the passage of an era, whose literary works no longer hold the public's interest. Fitzgerald knows he is a man past his days of creativity. His marriage to Zelda is shattered by her madness. Years of hospitalization in the best private hospitals have bankrupted him. Their daughter, Scottie is due a proper education. Only the best prep school will do. The tuition is beyond his financial capability.
Fitzgerald is living beyond his financial means, drawing advances on stories unwritten. The novel promised to Max Perkins is a year past due, soon two years past due. Long time agent Harold Ober has not lost faith. He has become Fitzgerald's banker, loaning him money to keep him afloat. It is Ober who finds a slot for Fitzgerald at MGM Studios in Hollywood. It could be Fitzgerald's salvation or his undoing.
Fitzgerald knows that everyone is gambling on his staying sober. His alcoholism is at the root of his problems. Gin is at the root of his weakness. Seagram's. That's his brand.
Hollywood is at it's peak of creating the American dream. Fitzgerald's old friend Irving Thalberg is dead. L.B. Mayer has taken the helm and Fitzgerald joins a crew of elite writers who have hired on out west beneath the iconic Hollywood sign. Aldous Huxley has amazed with his script for "Pride and Prejudice." And Fitzgerald finds himself among many of the members of the Algonquin Round Table. Dottie Parker wistfully attempts to draw him into a tryst for old time's sake. But Fitzgerald resists, riddled with guilt, thinking of his long lost Zelda, back in Highland Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina.
Even the Round Table moved west for "Ars Gratia Artis," they thought.
Fitzgerald is lured by his Algonquin pals to join them in the Garden of Allah, a hotel surrounded by a number of Villas. Here are Dorothy Parker and her husband of convenience whose sexuality lures him elsewhere than Dorothy's bed. There's S.J. Perelman, a host of others. Humphrey Bogart and girlfriend "Mayo" are intriguing companions. Surprisingly, Bogart finds Fitzgerald a swell fellow. Bogie's a literate man. He especially appreciates "Gatsby." However, the gang at the Garden are a great temptation to Scott. The booze flows freely during the parties around the pool. Sticking to Cokes is tough. Being on the wagon when nobody else is, well--that's a constant challenge.
The Garden of Allah, 8152 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood, California
The studio is generous. Fitzgerald has a six month contract. The weekly checks finally begin to build up a balance in the bank account. Creditable projects come his way. However, Fitzgerald learns that this new Hollywood is a fickle thing. Projects that are spun with initial glowing press releases die quickly on the vine. They won't sell to the public. Fitzgerald draws paychecks for projects never completed.
Enter a beautiful young woman, Sheila Graham. Fitzgerald is fascinated. She bears a striking resemblance to the young Zelda. He wonders why no one can see that resemblance but him.
Sheila Graham, Fitzgerald's lost Zelda
Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald, Yes, I can see the resemblance.
What ensues is an intense and complex love story. Graham is an enigma. Engaged to the Marquis of Donegal, Fitzgerald is curious why Graham continues to show interest in him. Her true history emerges in bed. Lots of skeletons rattle in Hollywood. She was born Lily Shiel, a child of the London slums, raised as a star of the burlesque stage in London, exhibiting her body to men who paid to see it. She had married an officer, John Graham, returning from the Great War. She said he was unable to consummate the marriage. She broke the engagement to the Marquis, terrified her past would be revealed.
She kept Fitzgerald at a distance. Especially as his failures as a screenwriter grew. His attempts at sobriety failed. She insisted on his taking "the Cure," an arduous, painful process. She moved him from "The Garden," first to Malibu, then to Encino, both "West of Sunset" Boulevard, the location of the Garden.
Scott's trips to visit Zelda also wore on the relationship. Scott was constantly riddled with guilt. Yet, they always returned to one another. Both had an irresistible carnal appetite for the other.
During his romance with Sheila, Scott continued to keep his promises to Zelda to spend vacations with her and to ensure visits to Zelda from their daughter Scottie. The relationship between Zelda and Scottie was a tempestuous one. Zelda, at times, was merciless in her criticism of Scottie, her appearance, lack of grace, and her resemblance to Scott as opposed to Zelda. Naturally, Scottie grew to where she attempted to avoid any visits with her mother. Scott mediated between the two of them, acting as the great appeaser, negotiating with each of them, assuring each of them that both loved one another. Scott introduced Scottie to Sheila. The two got along famously. Nor did Scottie condemn her father for seeking another relationship.
Fitzgerald was put on "Three Comrades" drawn from the novel by Erich Maria Remarque. It would be his only screen credit. Ernest Hemingway emerges to encourage Fitzgerald to use the film to warn the world to the growing danger of fascism. Fitzgerald's treatment is masterful, including shots of Hitler's diatribes, marching Nazis, flags and drums bearing swastikas. However, Mayer, has those scenes shot again, removing all overt scenes of Nazism removed from the picture at the insistence of a German cultural attache. Hooray for Hollywood.
O'Nan depicts Fitzgerald's spiraling Hollywood decline in unflinching, spare, lean prose. A contract unrenewed. Days as a freelance scriptwriter. Fitzgerald moved from project to project. Fitzgerald, uncredited, punching up dialogue for Vivien Leigh on Selznick's "Gone With the Wind." It is the last hurrah.
Yet, perhaps, Fitzgerald, banished from the Hollywood lot, is finally Fitzgerald's redemption as a writer. These are the days of the Pat Hobby stories, the stories of a drunk screenwriter in Hollywood. The days of the essays that become "The Crackup." And, finally, "The Love of the Last Tycoon." True. Bernice was long past bobbing her hair. Fitzgerald finally recognized that. He was a writer on the return, recognizing, finally, the Jazz Age was over. As always, one wonders what might have been. O'Nan helps us explore that question.
O'Nan captures not only the decline of an iconic American writer, but the decline of world civilization into the conflagration of the Second World War. As with O'Nan's other novels I have read, this is the work of an accomplished writer who immerses the reader in the lives and times of another era with the skill of a master. O'Nan is an author whose each work should be anticipated with the sense of excitement and new discovery. He never disappoints. West of Sunset is O'Nan's fifteenth novel. Highly recommended. ...more
1To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
2a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
3a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
4a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
5a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
6a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
7a time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
8a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.
--Ecclesiastes, 3:1-8, Revised English Bible
Wendell Berry: Poet, Novelist, Essayist. Born August 5, 1934,Henry County, Kentucky
Nathan Coulter, First Edition, Houghton Mifflin, Boston, Ma., 1960.
I have long loved the poetry of Wendell Berry. His The Peace of Wild Things is among my favorite poems. The man has a way with words that reveals his love of the land, the ways of nature, and his desire to preserve it. Here is his poem.
When despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be, I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
Those are fine words. But for all the poems I've read by this man, I have never read his fiction. Until now. I have discovered something else to love about Wendell Berry. Those are his stories of his fictional place, the Port William Community. The sheer joy of this is I have seven novels, thirty-eight short stories and seventeen poems telling the story of this wondrous place and the people who live there. It is a community. Or, as some of its residents refer to it, a membership. It is a place that one belongs to. You and all the others that live there are part of something, helping one another along the way from birth to crossing over.
Nathan Coulter: A Novel is the first Port William novel. It is the story of the Coulter family told through the eyes of young Nathan. This is Berry's developing theme of man's connection to the land, its sustenance of him, and his responsibility to preserve the land.
“Grandpa’s farm had belonged to our people ever since there had been a farm in that place, or people to own a farm. Grandpa’s father had left it to Grandpa and his other sons and daughters. But Grandpa had borrowed money and bought their shares. He had to have it whole hog or none, root hog or die, or he wouldn’t have it at all.”
Nathan's father is no different than his grandfather. He, too must have his land, even though he must pay for it, over time. A long time.
“He said that when we finally did get the farm paid for we could tell everybody to go to hell. That was what he lived for, to own his farm without having to say please or thank you to a living soul.”
Then there is Nathan's Uncle Burley, no farmer. Far from it. But he is no less tied to the land, hunting and fishing, captivated by the beauty of it all.
“Uncle Burley said hills always looked blue when you were far away from them. That was a pretty color for hills; the little houses and barns and fields looked so neat and quiet tucked against them. It made you want to be close to them. But he said that when you got close they were like the hills you’d left, and when you looked back your own hills were blue and you wanted to go back again. He said he reckoned a man could wear himself out going back and forth.”
I identify with Berry's rendering of the Port William Membership. I am a mixture of town and country. More town than country, as I was born in a middling size southern city, the product of a will of the wisp father who abandoned my mother and me when I was an infant. My mother thought eloping to Columbus, Mississippi, where the age for marriage without parental consent was younger than in Alabama, was a good idea at the time.
So I came to be raised in the home of my grandparents, just as young Nathan Coulter and his sibling Brother were. However I was and remained an only child. My mother chose never to remarry. Once burned, twice shy.
My grandfather was Robert Haywood McConnell, born in 1908 in Union Hill, Alabama. My grandmother was Mason Ovilea Beasley McConnell, born in 1909, in Salem, Alabama. Both communities, not even townships, were in the outskirts of Limestone County. The County Seat was Athens, Alabama. A high and mighty name for a small town.
As the Coulters were one of the principal families of the Port William area, so were the McConnells and the Beasleys in that upstate region of Alabama. Between those two burgeoning clans, who began tied to the land as farmers, they branched out into other professions over the successive years. The McConnells produced preachers, storekeepers, morticians, a judge here and there and physicians. The Beasleys produced storekeepers, business men, bankers, a sensitive florist who kept a huge portrait of Elvis over his bed. Everyone acknowledged he was sweet but a little bit funny. There was a circuit court clerk, too. She was married to a man named Homer Price. They had twins they named Sheila and Shaniqua. I was in love with both of them, though they did not give me the time of day. Rather they stared solemnly into one another's eyes. It was easier than looking into the mirror.
And there was the Beasley who made it big in chicken farming. Canned whole chickens. It's called Sweet Sue Chicken. The stuff's sold everywhere. He ended up raising race horses. We hit one of them that got loose on a Sunday morning. That horse ignored the stop sign at the intersection. Papa was flying our 1967 Buick Wildcat as he was wont to do. Stood up on the brake. The Wildcat nosed down and just lifted that horse right up on the hood. I was in the passenger's seat. Nothing looks bigger than a horse's ass sliding into your face straight up the sleek hood of a 1967 Buick Wildcat. The horse did not come through the windshield. But slid off. Disappeared for a bit. Then the steed raised his head and craned his neck around and looked at Papa and me through the windshield. Puzzled.
The point of this is that in Limestone County, between the Beasleys and the McConnells, they birthed you, sold you your groceries, your seed, your farming implements, married you, baptized you, doctored you, judged you, managed your money, buried you if the doctoring didn't take, kept the records of everything on file down at the court house and put the flowers in the funeral home that ended up withering at the burial site. Your neighbors probably brought you a chicken casserole made out of good old Sweet Sue Chicken, too. It was a community and a membership.
As a youngster, I was pretty befuddled by all of this. I was especially confused by who was who and how everybody was connected to whom and how. Over time all the pieces began to come together. I had a particular fondness for my Grandfather's mother, Mama Ora. She lived in a simple clapboard sided house with a dogtrot running through the center of it. During my visits there I learned my appreciation for the land in the country, the country life, the independent way Mama Ora lived and how my Grandfather came alive with his stories of growing up in Union Hill.
Mama Ora's egg custard pie was smooth as cream. It was rich with butter and eggs pulled from beneath the setting hens. No running water. It came from the well just a few yards from the house. Water was never clearer or colder than that drawn from the well and sipped from the tin dipper hung from a post in the well house. Summers never seemed hot at Mama Ora's. A box fan sat in the bedroom window pulling air through the screen door facing the dogtrot and blowing it out the window. You napped on handmade patchwork crazy quilts of indeterminate design. If the weather turned off stormy, the roll of distant thunder was a lullaby, nothing to be alarmed over. The leaves would whisper, then rustle, then shake as they waved in the stiffening wind. The house was a sanctuary of calm. Throughout it all was the sonorous ticking of a clock, an eight day wonder, with soft but authoritative Westminster chimes. No indoor plumbing. A damned mean rooster that waited for you to sit down in the outhouse. He would wait in ambuscade and peck your jewels or worse. Mama Ora would snatch your slingshot if you took it after her prize rooster. He wasn't going to be Sunday dinner.
Perhaps you have concluded I sprang from affluence in Northern Alabama. But my Grandfather was a poor relation. His father, who might have been influential, died young, making my Grandfather the man of the house at a very young age. He made it through high school. Was an excellent student. However, he helped tend the crops that went on the table fresh in season and that were canned for the winter. He hunted for squirrel and rabbits. Those were the main meats. Chicken was a delicacy. Hams were few and far between. The cow was for milk for younger sister Gladys.
He was given a job at McConnell Brothers Funeral Home after graduation from high school. It was a family favor. He learned the trade. Never cared for it. The explosion of a road work truck carrying dynamite was the end of it. By the time he finished picking up the pieces of the crew sitting around that dynamite, he was done.
Haywood they called him. He was handsome. He met Ovilea at Beasley's Drug Store. She was the baby of the Beasley family. She thought he was silly. But he grew on her. Her Daddy had died. Her mother had died. She lived with her oldest brother, Brother Charley, the Banker in a huge house over on East Pryor Street.
They married in a fence corner out in the country. A country preacher officiated. Brother Charley and his wife were not in attendance. Nor were any other Beasleys.
And, thus began my Grandfather's long life of professions. Insurance salesman. Storekeeper. Plumber. Steamfitter. Shipbuilder. Union Organizer. Union Business Agent. Politician. An arguer of Labor cases before the National Labor Relations Board against batteries of Attorneys. He never lost. A self educated man. A charitable man. Shot at. Called a Communist because he was labor. Successfully negotiated contracts satisfactory to Union Members and Management alike.
Who taught me how to plant pole beans, squash, okra, peas, tomatoes, butter beans. Peppers. Sweet. Hot. Eating thin curling pods of hot peppers until the beads of sweat popped out on your forehead, saying, "Eat it like a man," while the tears streamed down his face, as he laughed. The man I thought would never die, but did.
But before he died, the times we had. How he walked me along the bank of Sugar Creek where he used to put drinks to keep them cold. How to bark a squirrel flattened out along the top of a tree limb. Walking along the Elk River where his horse pulled him through the current as he hung to its tail and he learned to swim. The identity of trees. Snakes. The ones to worry about. The ones not to fear at all. All the birds. The smoothness of a Buckeye and how to keep it in your pocket, not for luck, but for the feel of it, the touch of it that took you back into the woods and out of a stressful situation when you'd rather holler.
So, yes. I identify with Port William. I know Nathan Coulter. I have been Nathan Coulter. No matter how old I may get, I will not forget Salem, Union Hill, Athens, or any Beasleys or McConnells. Especially Papa.
“Grandpa had owned his land and worked on it and taken his pride from it for so long that we knew him, and he knew himself, in the same way that we knew the spring. His life couldn’t be divided from the days he’d spent at work in his fields. Daddy had told us we didn’t know what the country would look like without him at work in the middle of it; and that was as true of Grandpa as it was of Daddy. We wouldn’t recognize the country when he was dead.”
No, Nathan, that's not right. You will recognize it. The land remains. It abides. You're just waiting your turn. Just like I am. Someone else will come along by and by.
Patrick Modiano's Novellas of Memory and Things Past
Note: My thanks to Yale University Press which made this translation of Modiano's Suspended SentePatrick Modiano's Novellas of Memory and Things Past
Note: My thanks to Yale University Press which made this translation of Modiano's Suspended Sentences: Three Novellas available through Netgalley. This publication, ISBN 9780300198058, became available for purchase on November 11, 2014 and is available for a purchase price of $16.00. The edition is published in paperback. Translation is by Mark Polizotti.
“Remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were.”― Marcel Proust
Modiano, the first novel, 1968, age twenty-three
I wondered if those members of the Yale University Press involved in the publication of this collection of three novellas by Patrick Modiano had a remarkable sense of prescience. For the Nobel Committee announced on October 9, 2014, that Modiano was awarded the Nobel for Literature...
"for the art of memory with which he has evoked the most ungraspable human destinies and uncovered the life-world of the occupation".
Modiano, Nobel Winner, 2014, age sixty-nine
Peter Englund the permanent Secretary to the Nobel Committee freely admitted that Modiano was not well known outside of France. However, Modiano is the author of nearly thirty books, most of which have been translated into European languages. Before winning the Nobel, Modiano had been recognized by Germany for his first novel "La Place de l'étoile" published in 1968 about a Jewish collaborator during World War II as one of the great Post Holocaust Novels in 2010. He received the Prix Goncourt in 1978, Grand Prix du roman de l'Académie française in 1972, the Prix mondial Cino Del Duca from the Institut de France for his lifetime achievement in 2010, and the 2012 Austrian State Prize for European Literature.
Yet, few of Modiano's works are available in English. The Nobel Committee's announcement had many Americans and English scratching their heads wondering just who Patrick Modiano was. I certainly was. The name flickered somewhere in my memory, but I could not place it. Over the days following the Nobel announcement, Modiano and his world began to emerge. Then his name and his image clicked with me. The film "Lucien, Lacombe," directed by Louis Malle with the screenplay co-authored by Modiano. Dealing with a young member of the French Gestapo, it was a portrait of Occupied France, a theme to which Modiano returns to time and again. The screenplay is available in English. See: Lucien Lacombe, New York, Viking, 1975.
The haunting film from 1974 captures the division of Occupied France, a theme evident in "Suspended Sentences
The three novellas were written over a five year period. However, in the French Omnibus edition, Modiano wrote in his introduction that these books
"form a single work...I thought I'd written them discontinuously, in successive bouts of forgetfulness, but often the same faces, the same names, the same places, the same sentences recur from one to the other."
Clearly, these novellas are highly autobiographical in nature. Modiano does not deny this, although, he maintains that the characters are "fictionally autobiographical." By implication, for this reader, Modiano's statement is one on the nature of memory, for memory is internal to the keeper of memory. It is unique to the owner of the memory. And while those people may be remembered by many, each person's perception of the person remembered may be completely different. But what is real? How accurate is memory? Or is perception reality?
Afterimage "Chien de printemps," Dog of Spring, (1993) The story of a photographer, Jansen, who had meticulously recorded a Paris that no longer existed, a city changed by new construction, a photographer who had taken portraits of people long gone, some dead. Jansen had been a student of Robert Capa. Capa, the famous war photographer, on the beaches at Normandy, who photographed France's Indochina war, dying May 25, 1954, when he stepped on a Viet Minh landmine.
The story is told by an anonymous narrator, easily enough supposed to be Modiano. He tells us he met Jansen in 1964 when he was only nineteen, which would have been Modiano's age. How easily memory is triggered. He is writing this story in 1992, having found a picture Jansen had taken of him and his girl friend in the spring of 1964. But, "[t]he memory of Jansen pursued me all afternoon and would follow me forever: Jansen would remain someone I'd barely had time to know."
Curiously, Jansen and, shall we say Modiano, had gone to Jansen's studio after meeting. Modiano perused Jansen's huge collection of photographs. On the walls were portraits of a younger Jansen and a smiling Capa. There was a portrait of a beautiful woman, Colette Laurent, gone now. Jansen had no catalog of his many photographs. The young man took it upon himself to catalog them, because it was a photographic history of a past that must be preserved. Jansen took to calling his young pupil his scribe. He identified each individual in each photograph. Yet, Jansen will disappear leaving the young Scribe with only a catalog of photographs that no longer exist, memories that cannot be grasped, people that cannot be known, for they are Jansen's alone. This is a signature theme of Modiano to introduce us to those whose personalities cannot be grasped. There is a vague detachment, and the uncomfortable fact that life is not as certain as we might like it to be.
Suspended SentencesRemise de peine (1988)
"After a little I am taken in and put to bed. Sleep, soft smiling, draws me unto her: and those receive me, who quietly treat me, as one familiar and well-beloved in that home: but will not, oh, will not, not now, not ever; but will not ever tell me who I am.”― James Agee, A Death in the Family
This novella most strongly represents Modiano's central themes of memory and the Occupation of France, for me. What makes it most intriguing is that Modiano sorts through his childhood memories of living with his brother in the care of Annie and her associates with whom his mother, an actress, has left them while she is on tour in a stage production.
The hero of this novella is Patoche, a diminutive of Patrick. His brother is unnamed. Patoche illustrates how the memories of childhood may shine with crystalline brilliance in the knowledge of names, faces, and places. However, the significance of the people that surround a child, and their connections to one another have no meaning to a child without explanation. Memory still leaves questions which can never be answered and may haunt us through our lives.
It is tempting to us Modiano's autobiography, Un pedigree, written in 2005, as a reader's guide to these novellas, especially Suspended Sentences. For there are so many things in Modiano's life that emerge in the pages of Patoche's memories that seemingly occurred in real life.
The woman, Annie, in whose care Patoche is left, was really Suzanne Bouqueran. Frede, Annie's close friend, is the nickname of Suzanne Baule' who ran a nightclub. Could it be that Annie and her compatriots who come and go, seemingly without reason, are members of the Carlingue, a gang of collaorateurs during the Occupation? Here they are the Rue Lauriston gang.
The Carlingue, "French Gestapo," Convicted and Condemned following the Liberation
Patoche and his brother are sometimes visited by their father. He is frequently accompanied by a number of business associates. There is an indication that he had once been a dealer in wines and liquors by the truckload. Father speaks of a chateau, now in ruins, to which he takes the boys to tour. The property had been seized by the United States Army as the product of illegal gains. Father tells the boys to keep an eye on the place because the Marquis who had owned the Chateau would return one day, although he and his wife had fled France at the end of the War. Another member of the Carlingue? There is no definite answer. Some questions have no answers. With memory comes mystery.
Modiano plays with the reader as a cat does a mouse. Patoche takes us forward in time to his twenties when he meets Jean D., who used to come to Annie's home when Patoche was ten. Jean D. has done time in prison--seven years. Jean and Patoche speak of the old days. Patoche tells him he is writing his first book.
Patoche reveals that during the War his father had been arrested as a Jew. However his father was released through the efforts of a man named Eddie Pagnon. Why was his father arrested? His father will not tell him.
The answer must lie with Pagnon. But Patoche cannot talk to him. He was a member of the Rue Lauriston Gang, condemned and shot. Only his childhood memories may lead him to a garage he remembers, a garage that Annie drove to when he rode along with her. Why did she give him a cigarette case? Where did she go? Where did everyone go? Where did his brother go? Why was the house where he had lived empty one day?
Oh, Annie, how kind you were to me, Patoche. Perhaps I loved you a little bit. I remember how you looked, the smell of your hair, the softness of your shoulder, the blouse you wore with the skirt, the wide belt cinching your waist, I liked you best that way. Not in the tight pants, the boots, the cowboy jacket.
Brothers Rudy and Patrick Modiano. Rudy died of Leukemia at the age of ten in 1957. His death is just a whisper in Suspended Sentences
Round like a circle in a spiral, like a wheel within a wheel Never ending or beginning on an ever spinning reel Like a snowball down a mountain, or a carnival balloon Like a carousel that's turning running rings around the moon Like a clock whose hands are sweeping past the minutes of its face And the world is like an apple whirling silently in space Like the circles that you find in the windmills of your mind--Alan and Marilyn Bergman, 1968
Ruined Flowers Fleurs de ruine (1991)
"I reached Rue d'Ulm. It was deserted. Though I kept telling myself that there was nothing unusual about that on a Sunday evening in this studious provincial neighborhood, I wondered whether I was still in Paris. In front of me, the dome of the Pantheon It frightened me to be there alone, at the foot of that funereal monument in the moonlight and I veered off into Rue Lhomond."
April 24, 1933
A young married couple commits suicide for no apparent reason.
It's a strange story that occurred that night in the building at number 26 rue des Fosse's-Saint-Jacques, near the Pantheon, in the home of Mr. and MMe. T.
What possible connection can there be here? Ah. Our narrator from the present has acquired a copy of the police report of the 1933 suicide. He is tracing their same route of that evening in 1933. But why?
As he follows in the doomed couple's footsteps, our present day narrator thinks back to having lived in the Montparnasse Quarter in 1965 with Jacqueline. Before he went to Vienna. How our memories dart through our minds, a chain reaction of events, but smoothly, a stream of consciousness. Private. Our own. No one else's. No one knows what we are thinking.
He recalls his neighbor. A veteran of the Algerian War. Not quite truthful. Something a little false about a textile concern.
Back and forth. Back and forth. Following the route of that long dead couple, memories of his former neighbor twirling around inside his mind. Duvelz. That was his name. Insisted that he and Jacqueline come around and meet this woman. The face opening the door. A woman with a scar on her cheek.
Things go rather squirrely. Duvelz introduces the woman. Our man can't remember her name. She and Duvelz were even engaged once, but she had to go marry someone else. Oh, her husband's out of town. They can all go out together. Or not. Duvelz strokes the scar on the woman's cheek. He opens her blouse and fondles her breast. Casually, "We were in a serious auto accident a while back."
Are you not spellbound? Can you stop reading? I could not. Where do the dots connect? Do they connect? Is this Modiano seeking out mystery for the sake of mystery? Sometimes he looks for it where there is none. He will tell you so.
Ruined Flowers is a series of spiraling puzzles that links the Paris of today to a Paris that was, some of which has vanished forever. Those memories which appear to be linked with reality perhaps are those that haunt us the most.
This is a solid FOUR star read. Highly recommended. These novellas served me well as an entrance to the world of Patrick Modiano. They should do the same for any reader.
Larry Brown, July 9, 1951 – November 24, 2004, Oxford, Mississippi
Fay, First Ed., Algonquin Books, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, 2000
I have one of those first editions of Fay. But it's not signed. I kept meaning to get over to Oxford, Mississippi, to meet Larry Brown. Actually, I had several first editions by the time Fay came out. I figured I had plenty of time. After all, Brown was a young man. So was I. I was stunned when he died of a heart attack at the age of fifty-three.
It was a wake up call of sorts. I was one year behind Brown. I was fifty-two when he checked out. I was still walking the court room floors as if I owned them, trying the hard cases, burning the candle at both ends. While I noted as did Edna St. Vincent Millay that blazing candle indeed made a lovely light, I was also conscious of the fact that all candles eventually burn out.
With Larry Brown's death I began to make an effort not to find an excuse to skip a book signing. And now I'm sixty-two. My health could be better. I joke about my key to immortality being a stack of unfinished books. Wouldn't it be pretty to think so.
With Larry Brown, I'll have to be content with the writing he left us. The interviews he gave. A wonderful documentary, The Rough South of Larry Brown. I think I would have liked Larry Brown, sitting down and talking with him. He understood people, brought them alive on the page, the good ones and the bad ones. That is so evident in Fay.
I got a feelin' called the blues, oh Lord Since my baby said goodbye Lord I don't know what I'll do All I do is sit and sigh, oh Lord
That last long day she said goodbye Well lord I thought I would cry She'll do me, she'll do you She's got that kind of lovin'
Lord I love to hear her when she calls me sweet da-a-addy Such a beautiful dream I hate to think it's all over I've lost my heart it seems
I've grown so used to you somehow Well I'm nobody's sugar daddy now And I'm lo-o-onesome I got the lovesick blues -- Cliff Friend and Irving Mills(1922)
Fay came out of the hills north of Oxford, Mississippi, raised poor. She grew up hard, with a Daddy who led her mother and her other siblings from place to place. She's followed the migrant workers. Lost one brother to death. One was so sick Daddy traded him for a car. There's got to be a better life. Fay's heard there's a beach down on the coast. When Daddy expressed an interest in her no Daddy ought to have it's time to start walking. With two dollars stuffed in her bra, her pack of cigarettes in a purse slung over her shoulder, Fay is looking for that better life.
She's a natural beauty with a body that makes men turn and stare. That first night trudging down the road, some boys in a pickup offer her a ride. They seem nice enough. They have beer and they're going to fry catfish. Well, of course, one or more of them's got designs on Fay, but with all the booze, the dope, and an obliging woman on the premises, Fay makes it through the night in a maidenly way, but gets an eyeful of the obliging older woman satisfying two young men at the same time. Fay feels a shudder somewhere deep inside, never knowing that something like that was possible.
It's time to keep on walking. Fay meets Sam, a State Trooper, who takes her home with him. Sam lives in a cabin with his wife Amy. It's a loveless marriage. A lot of marriages don't survive the loss of a child. Sam and Amy lost their daughter Karen four years before, killed in a car wreck. Sam had the misfortune to be dispatched to work that wreck, found his daughter dead in a crumpled car, not a mark on her, but with a broken neck. That's hard on a man. It's hard on Amy who has become an alcoholic.
Fay becomes their second daughter. She's seventeen. Amy buys her clothes. Fay lives in Karen's room. Sam loves to take her fishing. Fay's good at it. "I wish I had a Daddy like you," Fay tells him.
But this fairy tale can't last. Amy is killed in a wreck. Soon after the funeral Fay and Sam become lovers. Bottom line, Fay is a natural at sex. And she enjoys it. Sam is bothered at their age difference, but, DAMN, he can't stop. If only he had the presence of mind to have worn a rubber that first time. But no.
Now, Sam and Fay being a couple upsets Alesandra, the beautiful woman Sam was having an affair with before Fay came into the picture. Alesandra has a temper. Alesandra also has a gun. While Sam is away, Alesandra is going to kill Fay. Fay kills Alesandra in self defense and leaves Sam's home, which leaves Sam in a lot of trouble with law enforcement.
And Sam has a bad case of the lovesick blues.
Hitching rides with truck drivers, Fay ends up in Biloxi, that beach at the coast. She finds herself at a dive called the Love Cage, a strip club where she meets Aaron Forrest the bouncer. She also meets Reena, a down on her luck stripper, who offers her a place to stay. Of course, Fay will end up with Aaron who starts out as a caring and protective man. The Love Cage covers up a lot of ugly secrets. Drugs. Prostitution. Pornography. Aaron is in the thick of all of it. He wants to keep Fay away from the business, out of Biloxi, over at his mother's place in Pass Christian.
Fay is a natural at sex. Oh. Had I already mentioned that? Aaron has it bad. Aaron has a jealous streak. If Fay were to leave him, Aaron would have a bad case of the lovesick blues.
Fay misses Sam. Things are going to get very complicated.
Larry Brown puts the reader through the ringer. This is an outstanding read. The dialogue crackles. The sense of place is so strong you can smell the pines of Northern Mississippi, and the salty breeze of the Gulf. Brown's scenes of violence explode, leaving the reader shuddering and the victims whimpering. This is a country noir thriller with overtones of ironic black comedy. Why not five stars? At five hundred pages, as magic as some of the prose was, the story didn't merit quite the length of the telling. A SOLID 4 STAR READ. Highly recommended.
WHEN Miss Emily Grierson died, our whole town went to her funeral: the men through a sort of respectful affection for a fallen monument, the women mostly out of curiosity to see the inside of her house, which no one save an old man-servant--a combined gardener and cook--had seen in at least ten years.
Those words first appeared in print in Forum: The Magazine of Controversy, in the April edition, 1930. It was fitting. Forum was at its height as a magazine of literary significance and had served as a clarion call on issues of social significance since the 1890s. It ceased publication in 1950. I can only surmise the editorial staff threw up their hands in the face of rising McCarthyism.
I KNOW it's not the April issue. I couldn't find one! "A Rose for Emily" is in it!"
These Thirteen, First ed.,Jonathan Cape and Harrison Smith, New York, 1931
As always, you can find contradictory opinions by William Faulkner regarding the value of Novels, Short Stories, and Poetry. He has referred to writing short stories as "whoring," especially when he was sending stories off to The Saturday Evening Post, his favorite market for his short fiction. However, consider his remarks while writer in residence at the University of Virginia.
Yes sir. You can be more careless, you can put more trash in [a novel] and be excused for it. In a short story that's next to the poem, almost every word has got to be almost exactly right. In the novel you can be careless but in the short story you can't. I mean by that the good short stories like Chekhov wrote. That's why I rate that second – it's because it demands a nearer absolute exactitude. You have less room to be slovenly and careless. There's less room in it for trash. Faulkner in the University,Introduction by Douglas Day,Frederick Landis Gwynn, Joseph Blotner,University Press of Virginia, 1995
I ascribe to that statement by Faulkner where "A Rose for Emily" is concerned. For this story is a remarkable construction of plot, characterization, theme, and the use of a unique narrative technique. It is only through close reading, repeated reading, that the perfection of this story reveals why this story has become the most anthologized American short story.
Alas, Andalusia, aka Martha Jo, aka "The Queen" has decreed that I, who has decreed himself Jeeves around this abode WILL squire her to Kentuck, the local festival of Arts. And here, Dear Reader, I will leave you until I have returned, covered in the dust of the trodden paths, bearing objects of art, smelling of funnel cake, deafened by strains of music played too loudly through poor public address systems. Goodbye Faulkner. I will think of your story while I am gone.
Actually in route, I have in mind the ideal photograph for Miss Emily's house. Paint peeling, the grey cypress revealed underneath. And our town's oldest cemetery along the way. Perhaps time well spent. Happy reading.
The afternoon has passed as I told you, reader, it would. I have shaken the dust of well trodden paths from my shoes, my beloved is content with purchases made. I am content with photographs taken, downloaded, edited, and shortly to be uploaded and shared.
Ah, Mr. Faulkner. There you are. Well, you weren't whoring with this one. Nor were you telling a straight forward ghost story, although you have said so more than once. Your favorite themes are there, rising from the page. The changing South is there. Miss Emily's house itself is a symbol of it. The past is never past. That's there.
Once the Grierson mansion was a brilliant white on the finest street in town. Now it is falling into disrepair. No longer on one of the finer streets, it is surrounded by businesses, within the sound of the passing trains, near the cemetery where the rows of Union and Confederate dead lie. Miss Emily herself, dead, is a monument.
And we begin the story in the present with Miss Emily taking her place among the eternally peaceful. It is all fairly straight forward. Those first few paragraphs.
All, all are sleeping, sleeping, sleeping on the hill.-Edgar Lee Masters, The Hill, Spoonriver Anthology, 1915
However, Mr. Faulkner tells his story in anything but a conventional manner after the seemingly innocent beginning narrative. Time becomes non-linear. The initial narrator who might have been an omniscient third person observer, a single first person voice, becomes the curiously effective first person plural narrator. The narrator is not I but We. Should you be patient and count, you will find "we" used forty-eight times. It is not a mere whim. Faulkner did nothing by whim.
Through multiple sets of eyes, through multiple generations, we learn the story of Emily Grierson's life and her place in the community.
Alive, Miss Emily had been a tradition, a duty, and a care; a sort of hereditary obligation upon the town, dating from that day in 1894 when Colonel Sartoris, the mayor--he who fathered the edict that no Negro woman should appear on the streets without an apron-remitted her taxes, the dispensation dating from the death of her father on into perpetuity. Not that Miss Emily would have accepted charity. Colonel Sartoris invented an involved tale to the effect that Miss Emily's father had loaned money to the town, which the town, as a matter of business, preferred this way of repaying. Only a man of Colonel Sartoris' generation and thought could have invented it, and only a woman could have believed it.
When the next generation, with its more modern ideas, became mayors and aldermen, this arrangement created some little dissatisfaction. On the first of the year they mailed her a tax notice. February came, and there was no reply. They wrote her a formal letter, asking her to call at the sheriff's office at her convenience. A week later the mayor wrote her himself, offering to call or to send his car for her, and received in reply a note on paper of an archaic shape, in a thin, flowing calligraphy in faded ink, to the effect that she no longer went out at all. The tax notice was also enclosed, without comment.
Read carefully. It's like asking Salvador Dali for the time.
Emily's father found no suitor acceptable for his daughter. He stood in the doorway, chasing them away with a horse whip. He left her nothing but the house. So the good Old Colonel Sartoris fabricated the scheme to save her the taxes. Notice the narrator(s) observed her to have an angelic appearance.
The Griersons always had that superior attitude. The town resented that. However, Emily was to be pitied. Left a spinster at her father's death. No wonder she denied he was dead and the preachers had to talk her into surrendering his body after he had been dead for three days.
We did not say she was crazy then. We believed she had to do that. We remembered all the young men her father had driven away, and we knew that with nothing left, she would have to cling to that which had robbed her, as people will.
Faulkner continues to play with time. He plays with the reader. Unless particularly wary, the reader does not realize he is being played by a master but merciless mouser.
That was two years after her father's death and a short time after her sweetheart--the one we believed would marry her --had deserted her. After her father's death she went out very little; after her sweetheart went away, people hardly saw her at all. A few of the ladies had the temerity to call, but were not received, and the only sign of life about the place was the Negro man--a young man then--going in and out with a market basket.
Then there's that peculiar odor that emanates from Miss Emily's house shortly after the missing sweetheart was believed to have married Emily.
So the next night, after midnight, four men crossed Miss Emily's lawn and slunk about the house like burglars, sniffing along the base of the brickwork and at the cellar openings while one of them performed a regular sowing motion with his hand out of a sack slung from his shoulder. They broke open the cellar door and sprinkled lime there, and in all the outbuildings. As they recrossed the lawn, a window that had been dark was lighted and Miss Emily sat in it, the light behind her, and her upright torso motionless as that of an idol. They crept quietly across the lawn and into the shadow of the locusts that lined the street. After a week or two the smell went away.
An idol is feared as much as it is worshiped. Or did they not want to know the truth?
Faulkner spins the hands on the clock again. The sweetheart was Homer Barron, a common laborer and a Yankee at that. A drinker who enjoyed the company of young men whom he told he was not the marrying kind. The Town decided reinforcements were necessary, summoning two Grierson cousins from Alabama.
Barron leaves town, but returns when the Grierson cousins leave. The Town decides it's just as well. Those Alabama Griersons were more superior than Mississippi Griersons.
Emily buys a man's dressing set with the initials "HB" on each piece. A man's nightshirt completes the ensemble. After Homer enters Emily's home he's never seen again.
Emily offers china painting lessons to a generation of Jefferson's children. Until the children stop coming.
The hands on the clock spin wildly.
She carried her head high enough--even when we believed that she was fallen. It was as if she demanded more than ever the recognition of her dignity as the last Grierson; as if it had wanted that touch of earthiness to reaffirm her imperviousness. Like when she bought the rat poison, the arsenic. That was over a year after they had begun to say "Poor Emily," and while the two female cousins were visiting her.
"I want some poison," she said to the druggist. She was over thirty then, still a slight woman, though thinner than usual, with cold, haughty black eyes in a face the flesh of which was strained across the temples and about the eyesockets as you imagine a lighthouse-keeper's face ought to look. "I want some poison," she said.
"Yes, Miss Emily. What kind? For rats and such? I'd recom--"
"I want the best you have. I don't care what kind."
The druggist named several. "They'll kill anything up to an elephant. But what you want is--"
"Arsenic," Miss Emily said. "Is that a good one?"
"Is . . . arsenic? Yes, ma'am. But what you want--"
"I want arsenic."...
So THE NEXT day we all said, "She will kill herself"; and we said it would be the best thing.
Time passes inexorably. Miss Emily is thirty when she abandons noblesse oblige and takes up with Homer Barron. She dies at the age of seventy-four. At last in death she can be openly acknowledged as one of the community's own. Her air of superiority is gone. Her peculiarity is gone. There is no trace of madness. She is no longer a burden or a duty. Two generations have passed. It is a new generation that rules Jefferson now. Only a few remain of Emily's own age. And they remember her as they wish to.
...and the very old men --some in their brushed Confederate uniforms--on the porch and the lawn, talking of Miss Emily as if she had been a contemporary of theirs, believing that they had danced with her and courted her perhaps, confusing time with its mathematical progression, as the old do, to whom all the past is not a diminishing road but, instead, a huge meadow which no winter ever quite touches, divided from them now by the narrow bottle-neck of the most recent decade of years.
There is but one thing more for Faulkner to do, the final pronouncement of the omniscient "we" that gives "A Rose for Emily" its indelible shudder up the spine of generations of readers.
Already we knew that there was one room in that region above stairs which no one had seen in forty years, and which would have to be forced. They waited until Miss Emily was decently in the ground before they opened it.
Just who knew about that closed room? How many knew?
(view spoiler)[Behind the door the body of Homer Barron rots inside his night gown into the bed. Beside his grinning face there is an indentation on the pillow. There is a single iron gray hair in the hollow there. (hide spoiler)]
It is this knowledge that not only establishes the town as narrator but also accomplice. We act not only affirmatively but also by failure to act, by passivity, indifference, and our own self interest. Rest well Emily, Homer, for all, all, will sleep, sleep, sleep on the hill.
Mr. Chekhov,allow me to introduce you to Mr. Faulkner.
Randy Thornhorn's The Kestrel Waters:Gospel Music,Love, Bobnots, Lychs,and Life
Randy Thornhorn, a teller of tales of places you do and don't want toRandy Thornhorn's The Kestrel Waters:Gospel Music,Love, Bobnots, Lychs,and Life
Randy Thornhorn, a teller of tales of places you do and don't want to be
Mama may have, papa may have But God bless the child that's got his own
Them that's got shall get Them that's not shall lose So the Bible said and it still is news Mama may have, papa may have But God bless the child that's got his own That's got his own
Yes, the strong gets more While the weak ones fade Empty pockets don't ever make the grade Mama may have, papa may have But God bless the child that's got his own That's got his own
Money, you've got lots of friends Crowdin' 'round the door When you're gone and spending ends They don't come no more
Rich relations give, crust of bread and such You can help yourself But don't take too much Mama may have, papa may have But God bless the child that's got his own That's got his own
God bless the child God bless the child got his own
Billie Holliday, Arthur Herzog, Jr., 1941
If you read The Kestrel Waters: A Tale of Love and Devil, and I recommend you do, prepare to set your imagination free. Randy Thornhorn has created a work combining elements of the Appalachian tall tale, Southern folklore, gothic literature, that draws together threads of Celtic and Germanic mythology.
Thornhorn strongly believes that Southern literature is one of the true genres of regional story telling that exists in this country today. I happen to agree with him. You'll find many of the markers of that genre in these pages, but much more. There is a strong sense of place and setting here. A strong sense of family, dysfunctional though it may be. There is a definite degree of eccentricity displayed by particular characters. Plot lines meander leisurely. Some of these characteristics drive folks nuts. They don't get it. My wife and I have a saying, "Quirky? We like quirky." Think of one of Robert Altman's later films, "Cookie's Fortune," filmed in Holly Springs, Mississippi in 1999, and you have the lighter side of "The Kestrel Waters."
This is the story of the Family Brass. The patriarch is Daddy Malakoff Brass who runs a somewhat shady business down on the Savannah waterfront. Daddy left the family home, inherited by Mother Georgianna Brass from her father, a naval officer. It's down on Officer's row, a magnificent mansion, that requires a tremendous amount of upkeep.
Are the Brothers Brass in today?
Mama has done her connubial duty producing two sons, Glenn and Kestrel, the title character. And that's enough connubial bliss for Mother Brass. Daddy Brass, a force of nature, larger than life, a man of great appetites, carnal and otherwise, has a peach of a secretary, Miss Plum who attends to his business, personal and private.
Turns out Glenn and Kestrel are gifted with voice and instruments. Mother Brass promotes her two sons as gospel singers. They become the Brothers Brass. And they will become hits at gospel jamborees, tent shows, you name it. Picture them as very, very wholesome Everly Brothers who have the natural gospel pitch to their audiences.
The Brass Brothers have a surprising resemblance to the Everly Brothers
But that tag, the Brothers Brass, has a familiar ring. Think the Brothers Grimm.
Because this tale can be rather grim
While there's a bright and sunny side of life, there's a very dark and stormy side, too. It's far away from Savannah. Somewhere in the hills of Appalachia. In this dark world there's a place where you don't belong to be. It's Riddle Top, a mountain, where a fellow named Bob Nottingham rules. Think an endless night on Bald Mountain.
A place you don't belong to be
Now, reader, you have a choice here. You may decide, as I did, that Bob Nottingham is the Devil. Or, you may decide he is a twisted, malevolent god.
Frankly the road of Faith has been a rocky one for me. Many times during my long years as a career prosecutor I have often thought it easier to believe in the existence of a Devil than God. Or is it that troublesome question of free will? Does anyone truly know? I don't.
Whatever you decide, reader, this much is true. Bob Nottingham wants to get back whatever he loses. And he will stop at nothing to retrieve his lost treasure. Anything or anyone who stands in his way is forfeit.
Who, or what is it that Bob Nottingham seeks? It is a young girl named Bettilia, child like, but fortunate enough to have escaped from Riddle Top. She loves to sit among the high limbs of trees. My mind immediately went to Rima of Green Mansions by William Henry Hudson.
This is Bettilia to me
The only book Bettilia owns is a child's reader. Tiny in stature, she is great in spirit and the power of love. It will come as no surprise that she and Kestrel fall in love and that she is completely accepted by every member of the Brass family. Bettilia is the epitome of the meaning of love and the willingness to do anything to show that love to those whose circle she enters.
A Devil has his demons, or, if you prefer another term, his thralls. These are strangely sharp featured creatures, seemingly without will, who serve as Bob Nottingham's messengers and spies. In the world of Riddle Top they are known as Lyches. The leap to the image of leaches is not difficult. When one of them appears, Nottingham is not far behind.
It is incredibly difficult to review this novel without revealing too much. However, it should come as no surprise that Kestrel loses Bettilia. The question is will he get her back? Will Kestrel and Bob Nottingham meet on Riddletop? Who will prevail? Love or Devil? There will be a reckoning.
I sat down for lunch yesterday with Randy Thornhorn. It was a very interesting conversation. Thornhorn is a native of East Texas. He began writing at the age of fourteen, although he was not writing professionally until his late twenties. The world of Riddle Top is a kingdom that began to take shape in Thornhorn's mind in childhood. Sitting in the dark, in his aunt's living room, as she would be cooking breakfast, the moving shadows became the Lyches that would one day become part of Riddle Top. Yes, Celtic mythology influenced him. As did Germanic. Was he a reader of H.P. Lovecraft? Why, yes. He was. Thornhorn begins writing at 3:15 am. That's the time I was just getting to bed reading this novel. Curse you, Brother Thornhorn!
Will there be a sequel to "The Kestrel Waters?" He's not saying. Will there be other Riddle Top stories? Definitely.
For a read that is definitely a refreshing break from the norm, allow your imagination to take flight. Settle back, remember the magic and power of the tales that entranced you in your youth and rejoice that such stories still exist. If you can't return to the days a book could do that, don't even try. You won't get it.