"the poetry under the prose": on reading Ivan Doig's final novel

Monday, October 12, 2015

I took a single book with me to Luray, VA—Ivan Doig's gloriously affective Last Bus to Wisdom. It is Doig's sixteenth book, his final work of art, finished before his passing at the age of 75 this past April. It's about 1951 and a bus-trip taking boy, about ranchers and ranch hands, Kate Smith, but not that Kate Smith, a collection of autographs and experiences rendered permanently indelible.

Though Doig had been ill while he wrote this (and other) books, he never lost his patience. He tells this tale about a red-headed Tall Tale Teller as if he had all the time in the world. He puts his hero, Donal, on a bus, has him trail away from his beloved Gram, and allows him to anticipate the world with little ironical distance:

What a haze of thoughts came over me like that as memory went back and forth, dipping and accelerating like some speedometer keeping up with a hilly road. Passing by familiar sights with everything known ahead, maybe too much of a youngster to put the right words to the sensation but old enough to feel it in every part, I can only say I was meeting myself coming and going, my shifting life until then intersecting with the onrushing days ahead.
Not long ago, on a writing panel, a fellow panelist turned toward me and (with greatest emotion) spoke of those novelists (I felt the glare) who foolishly care so much about sentences. Despite the intensity of her argument, I still can't agree that plot is all a story needs. After I finished reading Doig, whose every sentence is a pleasure, I needed to spend some more time with him, this man who made his language sing.

And so I visited his web site, and I watched the video, and I read the reflections on him, and then I came to this: his thoughts about the poetry inside prose. I was grateful for the sentiments I found there:
To me, language—the substance on the page, that poetry under the prose—is the ultimate 'region,' the true home, for a writer.... If I have any creed that I wish you as readers, necessary accomplices in this flirtatious ceremony of writing and reading, will take with you from my pages, it'd be this belief of mine that writers of caliber can ground their work in specific land and lingo and yet be writing of that larger country: life.


Victoria Marie Lees said...

The poetry of your sentence structure, your images, are what make your books bestsellers in my mind, Beth. Thanks for sharing this insight from Ivan.

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