The writing matters.
Last summer I was in 2nd and Charles, the used bookstore associated with Books-a-Million Corporation, browsing the remaindered paperbacks. These are new books, sold for insultingly low prices, an insult I’m willing to inflict to benefit my reading habit. It’s always surprising to see who turns up there.
Never mind it’s December 23rd and I still need another gift for my son’s Almost-Fiancee. She’s a reader, an English teacher, so I madly start reading first pages in the pile of yet-to-be-read books beside my bed. Aha! A book by Edna O’Brien–a name I remember repeated by a much-loved writing teacher long ago. The Almost-Fiancee is Irish with a grandmother whose lilt sounds like she just stepped off the boat.
The Light of Evening. A resonant title.
I open the book. Ohhhh. The prose is so gorgeous, I can hardly breathe. I dare to quote from the Prologue:
There is a photograph of my mother as a young woman in a white dress, standing by her mother who is seated out-of-doors on a kitchen chair, in front of a plantation of evergreen trees. Her mother is staring with a grave expression, her gnarled fingers clasped in prayer. Despite the virgin marvel of the white dress and the obligingness of her stance, my mother has heard the mating calls of the world byond and has seen a picture of a white ship far out at sea. Her eyes are shockingly soft and beautiful.
The photograph would have been taken of a Sunday and for a special reason, perhaps on account of the daughter’s looming departure. A stillness reigns. One can feel the sultriness, the sun beating down on the tops of the drowsing trees and over the nondescript fields, on and on to the bluish swath of mountain. Later as the day cools and they have gone in, the cry of the corncrake will carry across those same fields and over the lake to the blue-hazed mountain, such a lonely evening sound to it, like the lonely evening sound of the mothers, saying it is not our fault that we weep so, it is nature’s fault that makes us first full, then empty.
Such is the wrath of the mothers, such is the cry of the mothers, such is the lamentation of the mothers, on and on until the last day, the bluish tinge, the pismires, the gloaming, and dying dust.
I’ve never seen a corncrake, (had, in fact, never heard of one), but I will never forget the sound. It’s internalized now. She did that, the miracle of words on the page.
Listen to the words, the repetition. Look at the images that repeat and therefore linger. Feel the fullness, the emptiness, the groaning of those mothers, in the moment of birth, in the moment of separation.
I stand amazed. Yes. That’s how it is. I am so grateful to the one who said it.