Saturday, December 11, 2010

Scott Spencer: I Am Not Worthy

Thank God for NPR, province of the liberal elitists though it may be (he said ironically). If I hadn’t listened by chance to Teri Gross’s interview with Scott Spencer on my iPod during one of my early autumn constitutionals, I wouldn’t have read his latest novel, Man in the Woods, and been so awed by the beauty of his writing as to seek out all his earlier stuff. All of it humbles me, and I am not easily humbled.

I’m afraid I’ve folded many of the pages of the copy of his 1986 novel Waking the Dead I borrowed from the East Fishkill Community Library, as I've been resolved the past view days to try to demonstrate why I love his writing so much. I might just as well have folded no pages, as every three paragraphs or so he expresses something so beautifully as to take your breath away.

Here the narrator talks about a recovering alcoholic’s yearning for drink:

I wanted a drink, many drinks, many many many drinks. There was a moment after the first drink when you knew there were more to come, and you could walk through yourself as if through the rooms of a cozy paid-for house and the painters had just arrived to put the primer on and soon everything would be painted your favorite colors.


I put my arm tentatively around [his teenaged nephews], trying to embrace them in a way that seemed somehow casual, athletic, using that code masculine shame has created for affection.


Mileski’s eyes clicked in her direction. He made a small, tight smile that was all but hidden by his beard; the whiskers around his mouth shifted like grass will when something unseen suddenly slithers through.


It was one of those extravagantly sunny winter mornings, as if all that low trembling gray had just been wrapping paper and this perfect blue dome was the gift inside.

I’ve had the sort of fight he describes so gorgeously here:

I took the day off from classes and Sarah stayed home, too. We lied to each other and said we wanted to work out our difference, to put our house back in order, when in fact our anger with each other had awakened a kind of awful perversity and what we really wanted was to use the stick of our intelligence to wedge into the crack in the earth between us and to open it further and further — until the other could suddenly see the emptiness below and panic.


Here the narrator has just tried to reassure his brother's Asian girlfriend about her lack of facility in English:

She gave me a quick, sour look and I realized that my saying she spoke more English than I spoke Korean and then my saying I spoke absolutely no Korean had turned what I’d meant to be a compliment into a slight. But of course it wasn’t a compliment in the first place. It was merely a bit of patronizing banter and as she turned her mouth down and glanced away from me I felt a surge of horror at myself — true horror — because it seemed suddenly that a sensitivity that I had always assumed was my second nature had turned into (perhaps had always been) something really rather coarse — a salesman’s friendliness.

1 comment:

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