I’d heard about Andrea Barrett’s short story collection Servants of the Map, years ago while living in Nebraska. It was shuffled away on my to read list, and for some reason the book rose up again on my horizon. When I began it, I had a sense of dejavu. It all seemed so familiar. I’m pretty sure I’ve read the title story in an anthology. It’s a good story, captivating and interesting. The main character is surveying the Himalayan mountains as part of the British surveying teams in the 1800’s.
The stories are imbued with science and the wonder of early science as people’s notions of the fantastic were supplanted by Darwin’s work and others.
However, the other stories are not as good. A few of the characters repeat, so it begins to be a little confusing trying to see which stories might link up. Barrett is a talented writer, but I’m not sure about the length of what she writes. It seems she would comfortable writing a novella, as most of her stories run pretty long.
While I enjoyed this work, it also began to drag. The setting began to feel more like a backdrop, and it annoyed me that all of the characters seemed to be taking part in this early scientific discussion. Perhaps, that is what life was like, but it felt like a theme that became a prison. Very repetitive.
My advice is to pick out the title story and give it a go, while leaving the rest of the stories for another time.
I have mixed emotions about many things in life. For instance, there are some specialty food stores that make fabulous salads and sandwiches topped with havarti or Greek olives that I love, yet I don’t identify with the majority of the people who shop in those stores. So far, I feel the same way about To the Lighthouse.
The characters in the novel, for the most part, all belong to a leisure class that doesn’t seem to need to work. Of course, the Ramsey’s are no described as having much money, and Mr. Ramsey does have to lecture in order to provide an income, yet one does not really feel that pressure on the family. What makes this novel interesting is the desperateness and isolation of the characters. I was thinking about any Jane Austen novel, and how her works trend toward comedy and misunderstanding where things are kept at a level of acceptable politeness. In To the Lighthouse, none of the characters are able to confide in one another. The result of this isolation is a bouncing around between points of view so that the reader sees how a character is slighted or feels without letting the other characters know.
That idea of isolation and desperateness is combined further with an urgency of need. The characters are not always aware of the reasons behind their needs, most often they seem clueless, however there is a drive to do more, be more, to live, to reach the lighthouse that fills each character. And while some are driven through their own inner desires, other characters feel compelled through the force of personality of those with whom they live.
The writing in this novel has a dreamy quality. One can easily imagine a summer’s day at a beach house with the sun pushing through the billowing curtains. But for all the beauty of the writing, not much happens in the novel. It takes place mostly over a weekend, and then fast forwards through the years summarizing what has happened to the different characters. It ends years later after the family has greatly changed. Once again they are back at their summer house; once again they make plans to go to the lighthouse. The roles are reversed this time, and it is the children who do not understand the desire to go or even want to. What does the lighthouse mean? I would argue it is an ideal, something to be strived toward, but perhaps never reached.
For those of you who know me, you know I’ve been talking about getting a new bike for months now. I currently have a Specialized Hard Rock, which I use as a commuting bike having stopped mountain biking after I left Tennessee.
For the MS150 ride, I’d like to get the Motobecane Fantom Cross Pro. Definitely need a road bike, and the cyclocross bikes seem the best for the kind of riding I’ll do in the future.
Just wanted to thank the person who anonymously contributed $50 for my ride and this cause!
If you can help out, please donate whatever you can.
More information on Bike MS: Express Scripts Gateway Getaway 2009
As a teenager, I drank
hatred like an animal
glutted at the stream
its stomach distended.
If I could hate
you, I would
let that feeling wash over
drown out the memories from a summer night
flights across the country, the comfort
of knowing who is in the other room.
Instead, I stagger against
a love that has passed
removed like the pictures
from our walls and unsettled
as the dust that still
swirls with the particles
we left behind.
— Last night, I listened to Wilco and played guitar. Helped to get out of a rut. Guess this is a continuation of that same idea.
This fall I’m taking part in the Bike MS: Express Scripts Gateway Getaway 2009 for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. My goal is to have $500 in pledges by September. Please donate what you can and help support this cause.
I’m three quarters of the way through this book. Meant to push through it last night, but got caught up things. Also, the book isn’t uplifting, so I wasn’t in the mood to be slightly depressed or dreamy feeling.
All that said, I’m really enjoying this novel. I can see why Charles Baxter uses it in his essays when talking about writing. It’s rife with sub-text, and characters who are keeping parts of themselves separate from each other. Beautiful writing, with long sentences that pause on moods and descriptions. However, not much happens in the novel, or at least not.
Joy Williams’ The Quick and the Dead is unlike any novel I’ve read. What separates this book from a lot of writing is the ever shifting point of view, and the how characters enter and leave the narrative in ways that do not conform to any of the advice from the dozens of books on fiction writing.
If I had to pare down the prose for a blurb or a quick summary, I’d say this novel is about the boundaries between living and dying. The characters seem caught in a state where they are neither wholly alive nor dead yet. Some of them are paralyzed by grief, trapped by their televisions, haunted by the recently deceased, medicated, obsessed with their image, and regurgitating slogans. The novel takes place in Arizona, and the desert exerts its will upon the characters. Perhaps they are reflecting the life and death struggle of survival in the desert?
While this book wasn’t conventional, it was entertaining, interesting, intriguing, and raw.