That is a good book which is opened with expectation, and closed with delight and profit. - Amos Bronson Alcott
...not to even mention what happens along the way:
I am halfway through Mink River by Brian Doyle of Leap and Leaping, the two jumpings of which I have carried on about sufficiently in previous newsletters (archived at companyofsaints.com ). This being the time of year that people revel in making lists, I hereby give you a Mink River list:
1. I have been reading Mink River for nearly two weeks, which is highly unusual. If I don't finish a novel in a couple of days, I generally won't get back to it. One exception to this was Middlemarch, because it was very fat, nigh on obese, and I probably wouldn't have finished it without encouragement from Ted and Debra. Mink River is not particularly fat. Nor is it full of unpronounceable names like Tolstoy's Resurrection, which also took me a while, but through which I persevered beyond occasional boredom because of the Literary Party and because Fr. George gave it to me.
"A great book should leave you with many experiences, and slightly exhausted at the end. You live several lives while reading it." -William Styron
2. The first thought I had reading Mink River was, "This kind of writing is allowed?" I had a similar thought/feeling when I started reading God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. I could see every English teacher in the world hacking through the prose with a red pencil, scrawling "run on sentence, unnecessary repetition, too flip, anthropomorphizing, what's the point? you think this is funny?" and other scowling remarks in the margins. Yet, as a writer I found the lyrical flow mesmerizing and freeing: I can write how ever I want to.
"No iron spike can pierce a human heart as icily as a period in the right place." - Isaac Babel
3. The reason I kept putting Mink River down was not because it was boring, but because it was stirring. I would rather sit and be stirred then read another section. You don't eat a box of fine chocolates by the handful. Not even at Christmas. Every few pages, I'd sit and think, pray, and sometimes even write.
"Reading a book is like rewriting it for yourself. You bring to a novel, anything you read, all your experience of the world. You bring your history and you read it in your own terms." -Angela Carter
4. The novel weaves around a town. Weaves is a good word. You go here and there, and then find yourself back here again. Mink River is not strong on what-will-happen-next like a mystery that keeps you up til 2:00 in the morning only to discover the butler didn't do it. Things happen in Mink River, but until the last section, reading it was rather like checking into facebook: Instead of being driven to find out what happens next, you just check-in to see what-is-happening.
"A book is a version of the world. If you do not like it, ignore it; or offer your own version in return." - Salman Rushdie
5. The setting is Pacific Northwest, green and wet. Small town, most people broke, two main cultures at work: the Irish and the People. The animals and river and land speak. So do the people. I don't usually like a lot of description, or poetry, or meandering books.
"When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world." - John Muir
6. I like the people. I like the way Doyle reaches into the depths of each heart. I like the love that is revealed in those depths, even though each person--doctor, cop, priest, artist, boy, whore, drunk, father, grandfather, son, grandmother, mother, daughter--are definitely flawed people. They also are brilliantly beautiful. The word incarnational comes to mind. In the end, Love is the structure the whole book rests on. And kindness. Kindness in the midst of pain and suffering and God-knows-what.
"Books are the compasses and telescopes and sextants and charts which other men have prepared to help us navigate the dangerous seas of human life." -Jesse Lee Bennett
7. You wouldn't call Mink River science fiction or fantasy. Yet it clearly transcends what some people call reality. The book is very natural. Extraordinarily natural. Super natural.
"Earth, with her thousand voices, praises God." - Samuel Taylor Coleridge
I haven't a clue who else might like this book. Michael grumbled at it, gave up, and then started again only because I was so enamored. I'm ordering 5 copies. If I send you one, please read it. Then, get back to me.
"Ink is handicapped, in a way, because you can blow up a man with gunpowder in half a second, while it may take twenty years to blow him up with a book. But the gunpowder destroys itself along with its victim, while a book can keep on exploding for centuries."-Christopher Morley
Merry Christmas even still,
LOTS OF BOOKS: The Literary Party at 1:30 on Friday, January 21 will be a review of 2010: Read and talk about any of the books on the 2010 Literary Party list. Email me and I will send you a copy of the list, or you can find it here: http://companyofsaints.com/litparty