Friday, April 2, 2010
I have a neighbor, whom I shall call Jane, who makes living in this neck of my woods a treasure. I'll say she teaches English as a second language at a community college. I'll say she and I watch horses trot up the street in May. I'll say that she's a mother loved fiercely by her daughters—daughters you'd greatly admire, if you knew them.
Jane also has a son-in-law named Jake Silverstein—or at least she says she does. You might have heard of him—a contributing editor at Harper's magazine, the editor of Texas Monthly, an award-winning sort who shows up regularly in the Best of anthologies, sometimes alongside my friend Jay Kirk. For years, Jane has been saying that Jake (whom, oddly I've never met, and since I've met Jane's aunts, daughters, grandchildren, cousins, husband, dog, and old-time friends, I've always been suspicious as to whether or not Jake Silverstein actually exists) has been writing some sort of book. For years I've been asking,What kind of book? For years she's been saying, It might be a novel. It might be nonfiction. I'm not actually sure. We don't press him.
A little over a year ago, Jane stopped me while I was driving by to say that Jake had sold his book to someone named Alane Mason. Alane Mason of W.W. Norton? I asked. Yes, Jane nodded. Do you know her? Um, yes, I said. She edited three of my books. Jane smiled, as if I'd just confirmed a strain of something actual. What sort of book did Jake sell? I asked. I'm going to find out, Jane answered.
Long preamble, you're right. I'll get to the point. This past Tuesday, I opened my mailbox to find a copy of Jake Silverstein's Nothing Happened and Then it Did: A Chronicle in Fact and Fiction. It's an actual book with an actual cover, and it's a memoir/novel (?) that describes Mr. Silverstein's forays into a journalistic life that takes him devil hunting, poetry contest participating, pirate-booty jaunting, and Mexican race-car tripping (in a service truck), among other things. Some of these stories are true, or at least rooted in truth. Some of them are not, or at least not altogether. All of them are tongue-in-cheek funny and also the work of one who writes an authentically gorgeous sentence.
I'm particularly attracted to this bit from the preface: Fact and fabrication are in opposition only where there is no society to verify or deny; for a man in isolation—and who is not?—the two share a greater taxonomy.
It's the kind of new insight you'll get all through a book that puzzles you along and keeps you not so much knowing, as asking.