February 23, 2014 § Leave a comment
All his life Robert Grainier would remember vividly the burned valley at sundown, the most dreamlike business he’d ever witnessed waking—the brilliant pastels of the last light overhead, some clouds high and white, catching daylight from beyond the valley, others ribbed and gray and pink, the lowest of them rubbing the peaks of Bussard and Queen mountains; and beneath this wondrous sky the black valley, utterly still, the train moving through it making a great noise but unable to wake this dead world.
A short passage from Denis Johnson’s incredible novella about the life of Robert Grainier, a labourer living among the land in early twentieth century America. The prose in this book is among the finest I’ve ever read, and the dreamlike vignettes that Johnson uses to depict the minor victories and multiple struggles Grainier endures are intricately and beautifully constructed.
February 19, 2014 § Leave a comment
It was about eleven o’clock in the morning, mid October, with the sun not shining and a look of hard wet rain in the clearness of the foothills. I was wearing my powder-blue suit, with dark blue shirt, tie and display handkerchief, black brogues, black wool socks with dark little clocks on them. I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn’t care who knew it. I was everything the well-dressed private detective ought to be. I was calling on four million dollars.
The opening passage from Raymond Chandler’s first novel, The Big Sleep. It’s a fast-moving, compact book full of guns, pretty dames and a smooth-talking private eye named Phillip Marlowe. An iconic example of noir fiction, it’s worth a read for the wisecracks alone.
February 16, 2014 § Leave a comment
With his lunch in his hand, Gus followed the guy along a narrow trail that wound through the scrub and the trees and eventually opened up onto the edge of a precipice that faced north, overlooking a small, empty bay and beyond that the coastline stretching off into the distance and the vast blue ocean sparkling and rippling all the way to the horizon. It caught him somewhat off guard to find this place so close to where he’d been working, and for a moment he just stood there taking it in.
A passage from a recent story entitled ‘The Cusp’.
February 3, 2014 § Leave a comment
He felt the guilt of inaction, of simply waiting while his life went to waste. No one was worth the gift of his life, no one could possibly be worth that. It belonged to him alone, and he did not deserve it either, because he was letting it waste. It was getting away from him and he made no effort to stop it. He did not know how.
A quote from Leonard Gardner’s short novel, Fat City, which depicts the gritty, desperate lives of two boxers in depression-era California. Sparse, bleak, and at the same time beautiful, it is a moving and memorable piece of American realism. Word has it, too, that it is one of contemporary author Denis Johnson’s favourite books.
January 23, 2014 § Leave a comment
Whether they are part of a home or home is a part of them is not a question children are prepared to answer. Having taken away the dog, take away the kitchen–the smell of something good in the oven for dinner. Also the smell of washing day, of wool drying in the wooden rack. Of ashes. Of soup simmering on the stove. Take away the patient old horse waiting by the pasture fence. Take away the chores that kept him busy from the time he got home from school until they sat down to supper. Take away the early-morning mist, the sound of crows quarreling in the treetops.
His work clothes are still hanging on a nail beside the door of his room, but nobody puts them on or takes them off. Nobody sleeps in his bed. Or reads the broken-back copy of Tom Swift and His Flying Machine. Take that away too, while you are at it. Take away the pitcher and bowl, both of them dry and dusty. Take away the cow barn where the cats, sitting all in a row, wait with their mouths wide open for somebody to squirt milk down their throats. Take away the horse barn too–the smell of hay and dust and horse piss and old sweat-stained leather, and the rain beating down on the plowed field beyond the door. Take all this away and what have you done to him? In the face of a deprivation so great, what is the use of asking him to go on being the boy he was. He might as well start life over again as some other boy instead.
This quote, taken from William Maxwell’s astonishing novel, So Long, See You Tomorrow, stuck out to me as the most powerful quote from — without a doubt — the most powerful novel I have read in quite some time. A beautifully sorrowful and nostalgic book about childhood, at only one hundred and thirty-something pages long, I would urge everyone to read it if they get the chance.
January 12, 2014 § Leave a comment
I turned around again and started shooting gooks. They were blowing holes through the wires with bangalor torpedoes. A man I took to be one of our own jumped into the trench and jabbed Gerber in the back with a bayonet. Singh saw it happening as I did and reached up on top of the trench where he had set his .45, picked it up, turned, and fired the gun in the man’s face. Because the man was wearing a helmet, the concussive effect of the round blew his face away. Gerber was lucky. He was wearing his flak jacket and the soldier had only made an arm thrust with the bayonet. If he had followed through with a full body thrust, he could have buried it into the hilt.
An absolutely captivating passage from Thom Jones’ story, ‘Break On Through’, taken from his first collection of short stories, The Pugilist at Rest. The scenes in the book which depict the madness and destruction of the Vietnam War, as this story does, are compelling and unforgettable. I highly recommend getting yourself a copy.