February 7, 2004
Hropf! Hreeoo! Boy howdy!
You have sure enough done it this time. You have changed point of view like a seven-year-old with a kaleidoscope. You have run through grammatical tense like it was taxpayer money and you were George W. Bush. You have taken your mode of (for lack of a better term) Sophisticated Primitive to a last utter extreme.
Or maybe I'd better back off from that last statement. Lord only knows what you have still have up your capacious sleeve.
Anyhow, With is one of your supreme achievements. It is so full of feeling- sorrow, pity, humor, admiration, and sheer love- that it has engaged me first to last- and this during a period when I had to steal fragments of time to gulp down a page or two here and there. (I'll have to admit that in the last 30 pages or so I took to skimming because I couldn't wait to see what surprises remained... That's okay. I'll be coming back.)
I kept saying, this is a wonderful story. Or, this is one damn fine book. Then it came to me that the word I was looking for was storybook. I read it with the fascination of a 12-year-old peering for the first time into Treasure Island. Or, more aptly, Robinson Crusoe. These two novel brightened the dullness of my farm boy youth like sunlight on the planet Mercury. They are still strong favorites and With can take a proud place on the shelf beside them.
There is so much to say about it that I feel I am tripping over myself to try to say something, anything, that might make sense...
Well, the idea of the in-habit. It is the only original variation on the doppelganger theme I have seen, excluding some of the sillier science fiction notion. When you introduced it on p. 77, I wondered how useful it could be. Then I recalled confusedly SOP.TRIP and regained confidence. Then when we moved aggressively into that point of view (231), there was for me such a feeling of release that I simply smiled at the page. Because Sog Alan was done in and we still had 300 pages to go. (I counted; I always do because my schedule allows me to read only so many pages per day and I have to measure them off. With destroyed that schedule many times.)
One of the best things is your treatment of Robin. She is so courageous, so resourceful, so determined and stoic and matter-of-fact that one keeps admiring her maturity and has to remind himself that she is, after all, a young girl. The place where you drive this home with most force and feeling is 347: "Oh, Paddington!" Man, that is a heart-tugger.
I was really set up when we came to 403 and the tour of Stay More. That took me pleasurably back to the earlier books, to memories of the time when I was beginning to get acquainted with your work. Of course, that was only the start. The last 100 pages or so amount, besides to winding-up of the stories at hand, to a kind of coda for almost all your work. If 13 Albatrosses was an album of get-togethers, clambakes, and barbecues, With is a book of family reunions. That is one of the things that gives it such a nostalgic charm. It must be rare indeed that an author has such opportunity to display his affection for the gallery of characters he has created.
The best of this self-reflexive fun is 426, where Lightning Bug shows up as a fictitious book instead of a real one. [Or is that how we should describe its appearance?]
I see that I made a note on 422, speculating about what would happen if the in-habit met its own present-time self. You used that idea to resolve the story- but I still didn't see it coming.
Well, I could go on in this vein for a long time, but fear to embarrass myself as well as you. I really ought to enter some caveats, just to show I have some critical sense left, but it's hard to come up with any. The idea that the in-habit can read minds is maybe a little too pat. I have problems with mind reading. We think and are aware and are barely aware of so many thing at once that some kind of filter would be required to amplify I've got a gimpy leg and a missing finger and to filter out My ass itches and I want lentil stew for supper and Breakfast ain't settin' too well and Smarshawibblehabbabadab.
And I would disagree with the statement on 380: "Art...is the expression of that which the ordinary mortal cannot express." I ain't much for thrusting artists onto pedestals and would amend it: "...is not trained to express." But of course that is not Donald Harington speaking there.
It's a triumph, Don! One more time - Congratulations!
And all best to you and the Comely Kim -
visitors since 01/19/04