Monthly Archives: February 2008

back from the ‘moon

Spent two weeks in Patagonia with Ben, a place I’ve wanted to go since reading Bruce Chatwin’s In Patagonia 7 years ago (with thanks to Mr. Hancock and Ms. Hanway).

It was the brief tourist version, of course–but in some very powerful ways, fulfilled the dream. Why is it so exciting to just be somewhere, to just go somewhere and know you’re there? Just being in Tierra del Fuego, at Estancia Harberton, looking out onto the water and feeling like I was at el fin del mundo filled me with joy and wonder.

Also, and I think connected, a deliriously happy return to the novel. I used to devour novels. I was raised by novels, from early childhood through my teenage years into my early twenties.

But somehow, over the past few years I have found myself far more drawn to non-fiction: memoirs, journalism, essays, research. Even when I read fiction, I mostly would stick to graphic novels, books I had read before, and trash. I was literally repelled from fiction in the bookstore. Something felt suspect about novels to me–something unclean and irritating about a novelist’s motivations.

A notable exception in 2007 was Blood Meridian, which I had previously started and stopped about 3 times. I finally decided I was going to finish that fucking thing if it killed me. I’ve never encountered fiction that felt so hard–that’s generally reserved for theory or something. But man, that book was–not work, exactly. More like a pilgrimage walking 50 miles on my knees to a shrine dedicated to the foulest elements of Western humanity.
But for CLEAN, on Ellen’s advice, I picked up Stegner’s Angle of Repose, and fell in love again with the majestic emotional power of the novel. The crotchety narrator’s voice made me trust his need to tell story. It just woke me up, or, mixing my metaphors, felt like falling into a cool body of water after walking through the desert. And after that, Gilead by Maryanne Robinson, a humble, skillful, quiet read which was pleasant enough, then over the course, hooked me completely even as it stayed quiet, then, at the end, just shook me to pieces, I was actually sobbing in pleasurable agony on the plane.
During the trip (thank you, Dave Malloy), I started to devour War and Peace, and am about 3/4 of the way through. Oh Jesus, that’s a novel. That’s the novel. It’s re-awakening some long-dormant spring in my imagination. His scope is so vast, but his ability to organize it all into a cohesive structure makes everything seem possible.

Irrational exuberance? Almost got me and Ben killed in the French Valley.