Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Summer sampler, part one

"Its themes and the power of its language,
the forceful flow of its storyline and its characters
have earned the right to a broad national audience."
30 July 2012 John M. Formy-Duval. Contemporary Literature
excerpt mid-way in Chapter 10, A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage. Pip runs away again, and this time he thinks to take Clemmie and her baby.

* * *

Stillness had come over the world; the train had been checked in its flight and was taking on water.
“Come with me,” Pip whispered, the idea so new and bright and large in his mind that he never thought to hold back the words, any more than he could think to keep the orb of sun from cresting the horizon at dawn.  He had grown another inch in the past month.  He bent down and kissed her on the mouth, and under his hand he felt a flutter at her throat.
Clemmie laughed and then kissed back, pressing against him until the baby squalled and she drew away.
“Come with me.”  The words seemed potent and magical, like what he had imagined back in the Emanuel Primitive Baptist Church as Preacher Bell described the peal at the world’s end when souls would be threshed from their husks.  Would it be so different from the two long whistles that meant the brakes had been released and the train was moving?
The locomotive released a head of steam; a black thunderhead sprang from the chimney.  And at once Pip understood that this was what he had been meaning for years:  Come with me.  Had he known all along that the three of them would be standing by the train, that he would draw Clemmie by the sheer force of his own wish, and that they would swarm, laughing, into the shadows of an empty boxcar?  They would be a family, flying across the flatlands, feeling the earth swell under their heels and break from the plains in mountain surges.   It was not anything to do with Bill; it was about him.  In the light of his rapture of need, her earlier bonds looked wrong and weak, would crumble to dust and drift across abandoned farms like ghosts exposed to the dawn.
He could see the double-headed engines now, black boulders crowning a rockslide barely held to the groove of track as it eased to round the curve—then the train was upon him, the rumble quickening and the whistle crying the crossing signal of two long notes, a short, and another long that seemed to pluck at his skin, alerting every inch of his body.  The lead engine shot past, the engineer and fireman towering above him, sparks from the wheels zinging onto his pant-legs like beetles of fire, but he did not stop staring at Clemmie, who was laughing again but not shaking her head.  For once in his life, he was locked onto a woman’s eyes, her pupils widening to take him in.  He grabbed her hand and began to race alongside the train, the baby shrieking in bursts like a small steam whistle.  When he leaped for the boxcar, Pip made it easily, but their hands uncoupled, and he shouted at Clemmie to hurry.
She did start after him, lifting Lanie as if she would throw the child into his arms.


  1. Thank you for sharing what I will dare to call a lovely prose poem. 'Tis such a tease.

    1. It is but a random snip from the wild travels of a young man.

  2. I remember that scene! You write so well of things in motion; everything so vivid and living, even the machines.

    I finally talked ma femme into reading Thaliad. She was quite happy with the experience. The violence surprised her, even though she's well familiar with the works of Mr Homer. I told her that violence in literature seems to be a Southern writer thing, the awareness of violence got from the Old Testament. I don't know if that claim is true, but it feels true. My own novels usually have a corpse or two at minimum.

    1. I do love describing motion! And trying to make things and fancied people come alive.

      Please tell Ms. Mighty Reader that I am glad she took the time to read "Thaliad," and that she liked it. And you can say that the violence surprised me as well, particularly that something iron-edged and brutal and Anglo-Saxon took over at one point.

      Perhaps you are right, that Southern writers imbibe (imbible) the Old Testament. And surely the New is hard enough. People don't behave in the bible, do they? Jagged edges and fall everywhere! And when you are sub-creator and make people out of thoughts and words, they don't behave or obey either. They exert their will. It seems to be free, though tied here and there in various ways.

      I wonder if young Southern writers have that heritage still. I am not sure. Perhaps some. Not all.

  3. Ahh, I so love this novel. It is one of the very, very best I've read in recent years. Thank you so much for giving me another chance to be enchanted by it.

    1. Thanks, Laura--glad it still lives for you, even after time passing.


Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.