So I didn't finish this week's book. Which means that I've already failed.
Good thing I did it early so I won't have so much pressure on these other 50 weeks, eh? Sheesh. The book this week was Irish author Claire Keegan's 2007 collection of short stories, Walk The Blue Fields, published by Faber and Faber, of London.
I had high hopes for this book. Not that they've gone unfulfilled, I just...never gave them enough of a chance in the first place. Moreover, this book, like I said, is full of short stories, which, (as my friend Casey said), "are harder to read. Sometimes when I read a book of short stories I feel like I need to put the book down for a while after I finish one so I can recuperate and get my strength up for the next story." (That quote is not verbatim. But you get the idea).
He said it with a straight face, like he usually says most things and so I never quite know if he's fibbing me or not (but I assume he's not, because he's a pretty good guy). But it's true. Short stories are hard. They're not supposed to be linked, but sometimes they are, and usually they all take place in a specific location, like IRELAND (wink wink...this book takes place predominantly in Ireland). Consequently, when reading said short stories, if you're not paying close attention, sometimes they roll into each other. But they're not supposed to. And you're supposed to understand that.
Anyway. The cover. My edition of Walk The Blue Fields is pretty nondescript. Which is why I'm showing you the prettier version:
I've learned, after having read a number of Irish authors by now, (Niall Williams is my favorite, please oh please read his Four Letters of Love), that the Irish literary folks do their prose pretty simply. They don't mess around with pretty stuff on the page; what I mean is, the story is the story. It speaks for itself. Don't need no flourishes or curlicues in the margins or whatever. However, because of this, you must pay very close attention to the words. And that's where I failed this week.
I was in Maine, see, at my final residency with the Stonecoast MFA in Creative Writing. And I spent more time talking with people than hiding in the corner trying to finish this book. Choices suck. And I made mine: I spent time with my fellow writers. And then, on the plane ride home, I spent time in The Blue Fields, with some characters in Ireland. On a farm. With a dog. And then I spent some time in another story, with a college guy and his crappy stepfather. (Sounds smart, I know. Except I read for the purpose of nourishment, and understanding the human condition! Yes! I do!)
Two stories stood out to me: "The Forester's Daughter" (pages 71-110), and "Close to the Water's Edge," (pages 113-123).
What I want to give to you, lovely reader, is a collection of lines. I'd give you a summary of the book, but I'm incompetent of doing that right now. It's late, and I'm tired. And I need to restart my life tomorrow and I think I should start a new book, too.
So. Lines I liked. Take 1:
Before a year had passed the futility of the married life struck her sore: the futility of making a bed, of drawing and pulling curtains. She'd felt lonelier now than she'd ever felt than she was single. (74)
Sorry. I realize that's kind of depressing. But feel the depth of this woman's sorrow. Wow. She wants purpose in her life.
He has never understood the human compulsion for conversation: people, when they speak, say useless things that seldom if ever improve their lives. Their words make them sad. Why can't they stop talking and embrace each other? (85)
Keegan does this wonderful trick, here. This is from "The Forester's Daughter," and within the story, the daughter receives (sort of), a retriever/dog, which she names "Judge." Hm. For a section of the story we slip entirely into Judge's perspective, HE is talking. It reminded me a bit of The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein, 2008 (Harper). Judge speaks! And of course, because he's a dog, he sees everything, senses everything. It's a brilliant little trick of Keegan's. But besides that trick, the substance of this quote is absolute gold. "...embrace each other," the dog says. He pleads! Embrace each other by paying attention to their faces, their actions, their body language. Read more than words. Read feelings. Whew.
So. Everyone. I've failed. With that knowledge in my pocket, I will move forward into this next week. And I will do my damn best to finish the next book: The Foremost Good Fortune, by the lovely Susan Conley, (2011, Random House). I had the grand pleasure of working with Susan this past year, on my own writing, so I'm anxious to read her story.
If I have the energy, I'll dip back into The Blue Fields. (Wink wink). Finish the thing!
Peace to you, brothers and sisters. And happy reading.