Sunday, November 05, 2006

Danforth, The Old Nick

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.

She nodded.

"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.


Wannietta said...

It's a great book! Touching, every day kinda humour, characters that you would really want to meet (if you don't know someone like them already) and you find yourself caring more about their lives than may seem rational.

Julie Wilson said...

If I may say, those socks on your site ROCK! Well done!

(And thanks for visiting.)

Pete said...

Indeed, a terrific book. Funny, poignant, and wonderfully human.

Monique said...

I haven't read it yet, but it's on my shelf. Now I'm definitely intrigued.

I had a bit of a tear up on an airplane as I finished Lisey's Story by Stephen King. Not how I expected to react to his book. I was definitely happy that nobody was sitting beside me and that it wasn't time for drinks or snacks so no attendant bothered me either.

Julie Wilson said...

Oh yah, there's nothing quite like busting a tear in public. And the kids, they just love an adult who spontaneously cries! Just love it.

Ravenswift said...

I get that feeling too, when I'm finishing up a book... it's sad to say goodbye to a character that's been a steady companion in your life for the previous two weeks or so. During the book, I always say to myself, "I wonder what so and so's up to today?"

Oh, and I always tear up when I'm reading a good book... doesn't matter who it is- King, Vonnegut, Robbins, Gabaldon. I like it. Makes me feel special.

MattAlexander said...

Yeah, A Complicated Kindness is definitely one of those books that's difficult to finish.

You get this uneasy feeling in your right hand as you pass the half-way point and it just gets worse and worse as your thumb and index finger get closer and closer and the back half gets thinner and thinner. Like you're losing your grip on the people in the book and soon they'll be gone.

Julie Wilson said...

Losing grip, yes, that's exactly it. Kind of like a relationship you feel could be good, you want to take it back before it gets any better so you don't have to suffer any potential loss.

Hmm, wonderfully put!

elbows said...

You know, the idea of not wanting to let a character go isn't limited to books. For instance, I promised myself I would not let myself own every album by Kate Bush - only so that I could always know there was more out there. I've substituted other singers when necessary, like the Cranes, or what have you, but I need to know that if I were lying on my death bed, with nothing else to hope for or look forward to, I could still anticipate listening to a Kate song I'd never heard before. A song I'd know would be fresh, vibrant, and without all the baggage and associations carried by songs from my own personal history.

Julie Wilson said...

Hey Elbows! ;)

I'll email soon. So much going on...

5cents said...

This is a fantastic concept.

Julie Wilson said...

I'm pleased you like it!