Two years ago, I sat at the end of the bar in my neighbourhood pub. A few seats down there was a woman reading. She was nearing the end of a book. She turned to the final page, read some more, placed the book face down, read some more, placed the book face down. She looked around the bar, bewildered. Her eyes fell on me.
"You gonna be O.K.?" I asked.
"I take it it's good," I said, gesturing to the book.
"I don't know that I want to finish it here," she said, not necessarily to me.
"I haven't read it, but people seem to like the protagonist," I offered.
The woman's eyes grew moist. "I'm not ready for her to leave just yet."
I nodded. "Well, I won't keep you from it."
She continued to read, her shaky finger tracing the lines, giving the page a gentle pat as the story drew to a close. She packed up her purse, paid her tab and walked past me out the door. It occurred to me that unlike a movie-goer, the experience of the reader isn't easily locatable. We can sit in a theatre and witness the audience's reaction, anticipate it, because we've already tested the market for what should be a generic response. But once a person buys a book their experience becomes lost to us. What intersection had this woman arrived at that she was so emotionally tied to this story? I pulled out my note pad and jotted down what would become the first of many sightings.
Caucasian woman, late 20s, long strawberry blonde hair, fair complexion, sea green eyes, dressed in a powder blue tunic, jeans short and leather sandals, drinking something clear and sweaty in a short glass with a swizzle stick.
(At the time, I couldn't bring myself to read the last line, only the first.)
A Complicated Kindness, Miriam Toews (Knopf Canada)
I live with my father, Ray Nickel, in that low brick bungalow out on highway number twelve. Blue shutters, brown door, one shattered window. Nothing great. The furniture keeps disappearing, though. That keeps things interesting.
Like your relationships with men, you'd never finished one book without having already started another. Today, you were alone and feeling it. You walked out into the sun, not sure of your direction. Your therapist had told you that the shortest route to surviving was to let the emotions come, to go straight through them. But you'd already told the people in your life that you liked getting caught on the snags; nothing was smooth and edgeless. Pain was a politically personal choice, and you made others feel like they were in denial.
One year later, life would give you a day to experience all the snags you could handle. You'd stand alone in your closet staring at some stranger's clothes, wondering how you'd gotten here, how you'd fooled everyone into thinking you were actually healthy. But it will be fine, because one day later you'll make that change and accept the happiness you deserve.