There are two books I’ve finished recently that I haven’t yet written about. I don’t put books away in their places on the shelves until I’ve written my final post on them, and these two have been lingering around next to my reading chair for too long.
The first is Mavis Gallant’s collection Paris Stories (I wrote about the first half of the book here). I felt the same about the second half of the book as I did about the first: some stories bored me and others were magical. Most of them I liked; there were just a couple that left me cold — I think, in these cases, the action went by too quickly, and I didn’t have enough time to come to care anything about the characters. Where the stories succeed, they give you the full sweep of a life, but they also linger enough along the way to give you time to get imaginatively and emotionally caught up in the characters’ lives.
One of my favorite stories from the second half is “Grippes and Poche,” a story about the author Grippes who regularly gets called in by the government official Poche to answer questions about his income and taxes. The story follows their meetings as they take place over the course of many years; Grippes is fascinated by Poche and gleans what information he can in the short time they have together. But Poche remains mysterious and distant. Grippes is so intrigued by Poche he turns him into a character in his novels, and it turns out that Grippes depends on Poche for his creative inspiration; when Poche no longer sends for him to inquire into his finances, he feels at a loss.
The story is interesting because of the surprising nature of this relationship — even though they seldom met and hardly knew each other, Grippes depends on the polite but still antagonistic relationship to feed his creative work. I admired the way Gallant could tell so much about Grippes solely through this one seemingly-unimportant relationship.
In another story, “Mlle. Dias de Corta,” the narrator writes a letter to the titular character, a young woman who has lived in her house but is unlikely now to come back, and the letter is unlikely to reach its destination. The narrator reminisces about Mlle. Dias de Corta and their life together, and as she does so, reveals much about herself, much that she probably did not intend to reveal.
There’s lots to enjoy in this book; although I thought it was uneven, the stories that worked worked very well.
The other book I’ve recently finished is Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. I’m not going to write anything like a regular review, partly because I feel like most people already know what this book is about if they haven’t read it already, but also because I don’t feel I have much to say about it. It’s a book that left me with strong feelings but largely bereft of words.
I will say, though, that it’s a near-perfect book for what it is — what it sets out to do it accomplishes, and it does so brilliantly. It’s a harrowing book, very difficult to take, but a beautiful one too, with gorgeous writing. It’s such a simple story — father and son walking south in a post-apocalyptic world — and not much happens in it, or, rather, the same thing happens over and over again, and yet I found it so compelling, so involving, that it was very hard to put down. I wanted to keep reading for contradictory reasons — because I was caught up in the world of the story and because I wanted to get out of that world as soon as possible. That’s how great books about horrible subjects make me feel I suppose — in awe of them and wanting to get some distance on them very fast.