All posts tagged: Wallace Stegner

Notes from the Golden Land

I suppose that what I really wanted to say that day at my daughter’s school is that we never reach a point at which our lives lie before us a a clearly marked open road, never have and never should expect a map to the years ahead, never do close those circles that seem, at thirteen and fourteen and nineteen, so urgently in need of closing. ‘Pacific Distances’ in Sentimental Journeys by Joan Didion I‘ve only been to the States once before: in the spring of 1992, we stayed with English friends who were spending a couple of years in Connecticut. I was thirteen. I went to school with my friend Jane (who was by then Jayne) and stood for the Pledge of Allegiance, and marvelled at the unregulated opportunities to eat fries and donuts and drink thick milkshakes that the lunch hall provided. But when we arrived in LA in the late afternoon, it seemed that I knew the tropes — the palm trees, the golden light, the impossible clarity and size of that blue, …

Reflections & intentions

The weather is mild again. The little ones are back at school. The Pip-Pop cried after we’d dropped them off and were walking to town. ‘Popsy go to school too, Mumma. Popsy want school.’ I feel jet-lagged — waking a full three hours earlier than I was by the end of the holidays. Through the loft window the sky is a dazzling turquoise and the clouds — fat and white with heavy gray bases — are racing by. If I think back, without looking, at what I read last year these are the ones I loved: Crossing to Safety, The Lowland, Leaving the Atocha Station, Light Years, A Suitable Boy and Daybook. And for this year I have a few projects in mind. I’d love to read/re-read all of Penelope Fitzgerald & Michael Ondaatje. I’d like to continue with my pencil in my hand, and I want to continue to start & end my days with a poem. T (seven & a half) is leaving me far behind her. At breakfast she told me the …

Light Years

Their life is mysterious, it is like a forest; from far off it seems a unity, it can be comprehended, described, but closer it begins to separate, to break into light and shadow, the density blinds one. Within there is no form, only prodigious detail that reaches everywhere: exotic sounds, spills of sunlight, foliage, fallen trees, small beasts that flee at the sound of a twig-snap, insects, silence, flowers. And all of this, dependent, closely woven, all of it is deceiving. There are really two kinds of life. There is, as Viri says, the one people believe you are living, and there is the other. It is this other which causes the trouble, this other we long to see. I‘ve been seduced again. It started with William Maxwell a couple of years ago; then I fell headlong for Wallace Stegner; and now, now it’s James Salter. American men of almost the same generation. Maxwell and Stegner born within a year of each other in 1908 and 1909 respectively; Salter, the youngest of the three, born …

Crossing to Safety

There it was, there it is, the place where during the best time of our lives friendship had its home and happiness its headquarters. I was worried after I’d started Wallace Stegner’s Crossing to Safety. The first chapter – present tense in the present day, 1972, of the narrator, writer Larry Morgan – was so mesmerising and beautiful, at once vivid, meditative and enticing, that I started to believe it was impossible for the whole book to live up to it. I needn’t have worried. Crossing to Safety is the story of two couples, Sally & Larry Morgan and Charity & Sid Lang, and their long friendship spanning the 1930s to the 1970s, their 20s to their 60s. It’s about friendship, aging and failure, about lost promise and nostalgia, about hard work and luck and disappointment, about illness, and about doing the very best you can with what you’re given. It’s a book about that generation who came of age in the depression and seem to have spent the rest of their lives running to …

Books talking to books

The characters I’m reading about all seem to be doing their own reading. In A Suitable Boy, Lata is reading Emma and Haresh is reading The Mayor of Casterbridge. Sandeep Lahiri, the young Sub-Divisional Officer of Rudia, is reading Howards End. In contrast to these very English choices, Mrs Rupa Mehra recites a passage from the Bhagavad Gita each morning. Decline and Fall (1928) opens with Paul Pennyfeather looking forward to reading another chapter of John Galsworthy’s Forsyte Saga in bed. Later, Pennyfeather marks his place in a volume of The Golden Bough by Charles Frazer, taking me neatly back to my other reading, The Waste Land (1922), which T.S. Eliot acknowledges is indebted to ‘a work of anthropology…which has influenced our generation profoundly; I mean The Golden Bough‘. I love these little sparks & frissons; books talking to books. The Biscuit is making her way through Matilda for about the sixth time, which reminded me of the wonderful list of books that the four-year-old Matilda reads under the ‘watchful and compassionate’ eye of Mrs Phelps the …