Sunday, August 11, 2013
There was this, above, a suggestion of the many vivid parts that constitute this surprising memoir's whole—Norman's summer as a fifteen-year-old employee of the local bookmobile (not to mention lover-in-training, thanks to his brother's girlfriend, Paris, and amateur outsdoorsman, with terrible unintended consequences, and son of a mostly missing father), Norman as a young man trying to find his way in a cold and bitter Canadian city (to pay off an auction debt, to be worthy of a woman he might have loved, to keep company with an older, regretful man), Norman among the Intuits (their folklore, their landscapes, their whale-spume horizons, their birds), Norman in Vermont (it was the summer of Ken Burns' Civil War documentary; it was the summer of wells and hallucinations and fevers), and Norman as the man who tries to reclaim the home that he lent to a poetess and her young son—the home in which she committed a ghastly and famous murder-suicide.
So the parts. The vivid parts of Beautiful Place.
It's gorgeous writing, every sentence calm and clear and (again) vivid: "The novels I was reading at the time deftly orchestrated implausibilities along a clear narrative line, but I could not locate such a line in my own life." "As he dusted each globe with a moistened cloth and inspected it for hairline cracks, Michael also turned it upside down and them right side up so that the fabricated snowflakes inside fell like confetti on interior tableau." "In 1990, the second full summer in our 1850s farmhouse in Vermont, everything I loved most happened most every day, with exceptions."
I read many books that I love and many I want to share, and then there are those books that I read and think: This is a book that I must teach.
I will teach Howard Norman to my students at Penn next spring.