Sunday, February 10, 2008
A Little Sunday Reading v. 8
A couple weeks ago I picked up Charles Baxter's book A Relative Stranger: Stories. A beautiful book of short stories that I found recommended on a list of the "best novels you've never read." The stories were so well-written and charming that I read many of them multiple times. An added bonus was that most were set in Michigan (Baxter used to teach at the University of Michigan). I'd heard of Baxter before but had never read him. I have no idea why. I immediately headed to the library and literally picked every book he's written from the shelf. This week I finished Feast of Love. AH-MAZING.

Baxter, in a self-proclaimed insomniac state, weaves the story of several people to give one coherent story of mistaken and real love. At times the story is so sad, I felt suffocated. But other moments were touching and uplifting. At all times, the writing was envy inducing. I feel like I marked every single page as notable.

Here is a small taste....

The man--ME, this pale being, no one else, it seems--wakes in fright, tangled up in the sheets. The darkened room, the half-closed doors of the closet and the slender pine-slatted lamp on the bedside table: I don't recognize them. On the opposite side of the room, the streetlight's distant luminance coating the window shade has an eerie unwelcome glow. None of these previously familiar objects have any familiarity now. What's worse, I cannot remember or recognize myself. I sit up in bed--actually, I lurch in mild sleepy terror toward the vertical. There's a demon here, one of the unnamed ones, the demon of erasure and forgetting. I can't manage my way through this feeling because my mind isn't working, and because it, the flesh in which I'm housed, hasn't yet become me.

As a member of the bourgeoisie, I live quietly in this midwestern city of ghosts and mutterers. Everywhere you go in this town you hear people muttering. Often this is brilliant muttering, tenurable muttering, but that is not my point. All these mini-vocalizations are the effect of the local university, the Amalagamated Education Corporations, as I call it, my employer. It is in the nature of universities to promote ideas that should not be put to use, whose glories must reside exclusively in the cranium. Therefore the muttering.

They--we--had a certain party varnish on. Depending on whether I've had enough to drink, I usually don't like ironic friendliness as much as homely glitter. Because it's the Midwest, no one really glitters because no one has to, it's more a dull shine, like frequently used silverware. We were all presentable enough, but almost no one was making any kid of statement. Out here in Michigan, real style is too difficult to maintain; the styles are all convenient and secondhand. We're all hand-me-downs personalities. But that's liberating: it frees you up for other matters of greater importance, the great themes, the sordid passions.

There are so many more great passages but they only really make sense when you've gotten to know and love the characters. I strongly, strongly recommend this book.

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