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.



March woodpile, Woodbury, Vermont

Seeing & Writing

A rare epiphany today. Sitting in on a grade school math class, I listened to children figure strategies to determine the precise number between 28 and 43.

Like that, I saw in the sunny classroom the mistaken path I’d taken in my novel’s rough draft. So intent was I on constructing the whole that I’d overlooked the necessity of knowing each particular piece – the unknown that will carry me from 28 to 43. Is it merely that I feared to lose sight of the whole? In each of my characters – as in every one of us – there’s an empty place, a yearning of trembling hunger.

After school, sprawled on the dim staircase while the kids practiced basketball, I wrote my own variation of strategies for those missing pieces – about the teenage boy who lost the lucky rabbit’s foot he had stolen from a corner store years before, while his uncle argued with the cashier about a lottery ticket. As stolen contraband (and girly pink), the boy had kept the rabbit’s foot hidden. Through coincidence, a woman finds the broken thing ground into an icy road….

In the handful of those classroom moments, I realized these pieces might form the schematic of this novel yet-in-the-writing, and while amorphous destiny hides from us, the coincidences winding us unwittingly together are a misplaced rabbit’s foot or a sweater left on someone’s chair.

… over time, we stop perceiving familiar things – words, friends, apartments – as they truly are. To eat a banana for the thousandth time is nothing like eating a banana for the first time. To have sex with somebody for the thousandth time is nothing like having sex with that person for the first time. The easier an experience, or the more entrenched, or the more familiar, the fainter our sensation of it becomes. This is true of chocolate and marriages and hometowns and narrative structures. Complexities wane, miracles become unremarkable, and if we’re not careful, pretty soon we’re gazing out at our lives as if through a burlap sack.

— Anthony Doerr, Four Seasons in Rome