Friday, February 25, 2005


Beautiful passages to cry over

… THE power of them [words] strung together on the penny string of a song, how they seemed to call up a hundred vanished scenes, gone faces, lost instances of human love. Sebastian Barry, in A Long, Long Way (2005)

I REMEMBER stepping off the ship at Singapore harbour, watching the sampans and tugboats bobbing gently in the bay. Smooth-skinned men and women sold fruit the colour of the sun and called to one another in birdlike intonations. The smells, too, were intoxicating. All around me the air had a curious odour of earth and caramel. Tash Aw, in The Harmony Silk Factory (2005)

I STAY in the same city, on the same street, in the same house, gazing at the same view. Istanbul's fate is my fate: I am attached to this city because it has made me who I am. Orhan Pamuk, in Istanbul (2005)

THE years between her husband's death and her eldest daughter's leaving home were, in fact, years of almost perfect serenity. My grandfather had sometimes spoken of disappointment. With him gone they were cut free from the troublesome possibility of success, recognition, advancement. They had no reason to look forward, nothing to regret. Their lives spun off the tilting world like thread off a spindle, breakfast time, suppertime, lilac time, apple time. If heaven was to be this world purged of disaster and nuisance, if immortality was to be this life held in poise and arrest, and if this world purged and this life unconsuming could be thought of as world and life restored to their proper natures, it is no wonder that five serene, eventless years lulled my grandmother into forgetting what she should never have forgotten. Marilynne Robinson, in Housekeeping (2000)

WOOD for building was hard to come by, so John had used old wrecked boats for the joists, deadwood he'd found in the shipyard, and when there was none of that to be had, he used fruitwood he'd culled from his property, though people insisted applewood and pear wouldn't last. There was no glass in the windows, only oiled paper, but the light that came through was dazzling and yellow; little flies buzzed in and out of the light, and everything seemed slow, molasses slow, lovesick slow. Alice Hoffman, in Blackbird House (2004)

SOMETHING has occurred to her--something transparently simple, something she's always known, it seems, but never articulated. Which is that the moment of death occurs while we're still alive. Life marches right up to the wall of that final darkness, one extreme state of being butting against the other. Not even a breath separates them. Not even a blink of the eye. A person can go on and on tuned in to the daily music of food and work and weather and speech right up to the last minute, so that not a single thing gets lost. Carol Shields, in The Stone Diaries (1994)

POETRY, which is perfection's sweat but which must seem as fresh as the raindrops on a statue's brow, combines the natural and the marmoreal; it conjugates both tenses simultaneously: the past and the present, if the past is the sculpture and the present the beads of dew or rain on the forehead of the past. There is the buried language and there is the individual vocabulary, and the process of poetry is one of excavation and of self-discovery. Derek Walcott, in Nobel Lecture (1992)

THEY searched for her. Word was sent out a hundred miles in every direction to watch for a young woman in a car which I said was blue and Lucille said was green. Some boys who had been fishing and knew nothing about the search had come across her sitting cross-legged on the roof of the car, which had bogged down in the meadow between the road and the cliff. They said she was gazing at the lake and eating wild strawberries, which were prodigiously large and abundant that year. She asked them very pleasantly to help her push her car out of the mud, and they went so far as to put their blankets and coats under the wheels to facilitate her rescue. When they got the Ford back to the road she thanked them, gave them her purse, rolled down the rear windows, started the car, turned the wheel as far to the right as it would go, and roared swerving and sliding across the meadow until she sailed off the edge of the cliff. ... My grandmother spent a number of days in her bedroom. She had an armchair and a footstool from the parlor placed by the window and looked into the orchard, and she sat there, food was brought to her there. She was not inclined to move. She could hear, if not the particular words and conversations, at least the voices of people in the kitchen, the gentle and formal society of friends and mourners that had established itself in her house to look after things. Her friends were very old, and fond of white cake and pinochle. In twos and threes they would volunteer to look after us, while the others played cards at the breakfast table. We would be walked around by nervous, peremptory old men who would show us Spanish coins, and watches, and miniature jackknives with numerous blades designed to be serviceable in any extremity, in order to keep us near them and out of the path of possible traffic. A tiny old lady named Ettie, whose flesh was the color of toadstools and whose memory was so eroded as to make her incapable of bidding, and who sat smiling by herself in the porch, took me by the hand once and told me that in San Francisco, before the fire, she had lived near a cathedral, and in the house opposite lived a Catholic lady who kept a huge parrot on her balcony. When the bells rang the lady would come out with a shawl over her head and she would pray, and the parrot would pray with her, the woman’s voice and the parrot’s voice, on and on, between clamor and clangor. After a while the woman fell ill, or at least stopped coming out on her balcony, but the parrot was still there, and it whistled and prayed and flirted its tail whenever the bell rang. The fire took the church and its bells and no doubt the parrot, too, and quite possibly the Catholic lady. Ettie waved it all away with her hand and pretended to sleep. Marilynne Robinson, in Housekeeping (1981)

IN the morning they stared, awed and dismayed, at a landscape so alien they had not dreamed anything like it existed on the same planet as New Zealand. The rolling hills were there certainly, but absolutely nothing else reminiscent of home. It was all brown and grey, even the trees! ... The winter wheat was already turned a fawnish silver by the glaring sun, miles upon miles of rippling and bending in the wind, broken only by the strands of thin, spindling, blue-leafed trees and dusty clumps of tired grey bushes. Fee's stoical eyes surveyed the scene without changing expression but poor Meggie's were full of tears. It was horrible, fenceless and vast, without a trace of green. Colleen McCullough, in The Thorn Birds (1977)

THE FIRST TIME I saw Brenda she asked me to hold her glasses. Then she stepped out to the edge of the diving board and looked foggily into the pool; it could have been drained, myopic Brenda would never have known it. She dove beautifully, and a moment later she was swimming back to the side of the pool, her head of short-clipped auburn hair held up, straight ahead of her, as though it were a rose on a long stem. She glided to the edge and then was beside me. “Thank you,” she said, her eyes watery though not from the water. She extended a hand for her glasses but did not put them on until she turned and headed away. I watched her move off. Her hands suddenly appeared behind her. She caught the bottom of her suit between thumb and index finger and flicked what flesh had been showing back where it belonged. My blood jumped. Philip Roth, in Goodbye, Columbus (1959)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Marilynne Robison excerpt is from Housekeeping, not Gilead.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010 10:49:00 AM  
Blogger Eric Forbes said...

Thanks for pointing out the error!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010 1:26:00 PM  

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