The End of the Point/Elizabeth Graver: Reflections

Thursday, March 28, 2013

You can go to school and hope to learn to write. Or you can read Elizabeth Graver's fourth novel, The End of the Point. How are words turned into people—true people, real people, you know you've met them people? How does land and sea—silent, mutable, endangered, persistent—become not just character but plot? How are generations whooshed across pages, their presence felt? What is the alchemy of omniscience? What is alive inside the novelistic I? How is time stippled and stopped? What do you do with all that you have come to know (with what you have researched) so that no one ever guesses that you weren't born with all that knowing in your head?

(The names of birds, the dimensions of a porpoise skull, the chemical cousins of Agent Orange, the terminology of madness, the songs of WW II, the rules of 1940s dance halls, the economics of development, the name of a condition signaled by coke-colored urine.)

Ask a question; find its answer here. Study every sentence of this magisterial, evocative novel. Read it very slow. Tell those who wish to interfere that you are doing something important. You are reading Elizabeth Graver. You are learning how to write.

Graver's novel—about a jut of land called Ashaunt Point and the generations of one family who take their peace and healing there—is a stunning achievement. "With grace and subtlety, Elizabeth Graver illuminates the powerful legacy of family and place, exploring what we are born into, what we pass down, and what we preserve, cast off, or willingly set free." That's what the jacket copy promises, and that indeed is what Graver delivers—in sentence after sentence of most immaculate prose.

I could flip through, quote from any page. Here: I present Elizabeth Graver's gardens, though I could just as easily have given you her birds (you know my obsession with birds), or the notes between a child and her nanny, or the disappointments that rise up between a mother and her son, or an old marriage healed. But here are Graver's gardens:
Her focus has narrowed, she knows what she wants; in this case; it's the flowers—to look and look. At night, and in the afternoons when the pain clamps her hard inside its jaws, the garden follows her, a dreamscape unspooling, brighter than the wildflowers and the white-pink roses grown spindly on her own trellises; brighter too than her own walled garden, bee balm blooming now, asters on the verge, the lupine (over) with its fuzzy, blackened rattle pods that could be cracked for seeds to nick, soak, plant.
Such a book. And for those who wonder, who keep track of such things—I have known Elizabeth through the ether for years, but I insisted on buying this book. On reading it for this blog. On giving myself that pleasure.


Sarah Laurence said...

That makes three glowing reviews in a row:
NYT ( Books In the City ( and yours.

I agree that reading a good book is a wonderful way to learn the craft of writing. From this excerpt Graver's style reminds me a bit of yours. The cover is beautiful too. The End of the Point is going on my TBR list, for my next visit to an indie bookstore.

Kelly Simmons said...

I just ordered this yesterday -- not realizing you had commented on it here (I am behind on my Beth-ness)
and now I am reallllllly looking forward to it.

Remind me to tell you what happened after I read The Orchardist.

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