Growing Girls

Not that many years ago, the enormous trunk of my old Volvo held a stash of gritty plastic buckets and shovels all summer, tucked to one side, opposite spare oil quarts and a yellow jug of coolant: well-used childhood possessions.

This beach trip our family is entirely without sand toys, although we’ve been to numerous beaches, and even created castles with our hands and this fine red sand, with smooth stones and dried seaweed. I am likely the only one in our family who remembers those sand toys.

Here’s what we do now: on a chilly morning yesterday, the older daughter filled out a college math assessment on-line. At a particularly knotty problem, she looked at me. My own adolescence of function and cosecant reared up before me. I could feel myself teetering on a edge, before I said simply, Call your uncle if you want help with that one…. There’s only so much I can do, and cosecant no longer falls into my skills.

Which blended in perfectly with Jeffrey Lent’s beautiful new novel, Before We Sleep, about a daughter growing up – and much, much more.

There were far worse things than to prepare youngsters for the world that would lie ahead of them. To prepare them for the day when, inevitably, that world would not make sense.

– Jeffrey Lent

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Photo by James Dailey

Sunlight and Sweetness

When my daughter was two, I picked up a copy of Jeffrey Lent’s novel In the Fall in Montpelier’s Bear Pond Books and began reading. My child was on my back, and I stood so long she nudged me with her feet, a way she had of prodding me along when the scenery dulled for her. I bought the book and walked down Main Street, the pages open in my hands.

Reading that novel was like nothing else I encountered. I was scraping and painting the kitchen windows that summer, and I abandoned that work, sitting on the porch steps, reading, reading, while my child ate watermelon, strewing gnawed rinds over the grass. Halfway through the novel, the language became incantatory in my mind, rising and singing. When I finished the book, I studied the paperback cover, pondering the beauty and mysteries of this book, the sheer grace of its enormous hard work. The novel’s ending remains one of my most beloved.

Why I write all this is not just to rave about this novelist (if you haven’t read him, how lucky you are – you can read his books for the first time), but for this:

With vivid and richly textured prose, Brett Ann Stanciu offers unsparing portraits of northern New England life well beyond sight of the ski lodges and postcard views. The work the land demands, the blood ties of family to the land and to each other, the profound solitude that such hard-bitten lives thrusts upon the people, are here in true measure. A moving and evocative tale that will stay with you, Hidden View also provides one of the most compelling and honest rural woman’s viewpoint to come along in years. A novel of singular accomplishment.

–– Jeffrey Lent

Very often a writer’s life is plagued with burrowing doubt and uncertainty, laboring in a society that values tax bracket far above art. And then, sometimes, you feel you might just have hit the mark. Infinite gratitude.

 

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March woodpile, Woodbury, Vermont