About Grace, by Anthony Doerr

about grace

By a strange coincidence, I stumbled on another story with a protagonist whose dreams interact with our waking world. Unlike in The Lathe of Heaven, David Winkler’s dreams do not change the world, but they sometimes predict with uncanny accuracy what will happen.

It’s a heavy burden: to see unfolding before you the events you alone know are leading to tragedy, unable to convince others. Only his mother believed him, after an incident when he was a young child. He dreams of meeting a woman—the woman, as Sherlock Holmes would say—in the grocery store and when he does, pursues Sandy despite her wedding ring.

He does win her, but when later he dreams that he accidently drowns their infant daughter Grace, he is unable to persuade her of the looming danger. The only way he can think of to prevent that tragedy is to run away from both of them. Landing in St. Vincent with no means to support himself, he is eventually adopted by a local family.

Winkler is more sensitive than most people. Isolated since his mother’s death, struggling with social norms, he makes strangely self-destructive decisions. These put him in challenging and life-threatening situations, whether it’s starving on a Caribbean beach, lost in a desert without his glasses, or suffering through a bitterly cold winter in the northern Yukon with only a wood stove for heat.

There he again takes up his study of snowflakes, abandoned when he ran off with Sandy. Water in all its forms is a recurring character in this book. “We live in the beds of ancient oceans.” Doerr brilliantly integrates the science into the story so that it doesn’t stand out.

I had spent a long time dissecting Doerr’s incredible second novel All the Light We Cannot See, which won the Pulitzer Prize. Like Winkler incredulous at the intricacy of a single snowflake, I looked at a single page of that book, a single paragraph, a single sentence. I was in awe of the brilliance of the overall structure and of each atomic fragment.

While the language here is equally gorgeous and has moments of transcendence, especially when describing nature’s power and beauty, this first novel of Doerr’s does not quite hang together for me. The jolting movements between the phases of Winkler’s life left me gasping for air; the mentally and physically punishing stretches made me want to skip ahead; and most of the major characters did not fully come to life for me.

This could be because I was reading the book during a stressful time. The great teacher/writer/agent Donald Maass asks us writers to consider if our protagonist is someone readers will want to spend a substantial amount of time with. Ultimately, for me at least, Winkler was not interesting enough to engage me for the days it took to read this book.

Yet I loved the role of nature in all its majesty. I loved the poetry of the writing. I loved the liminal space between opposites: heat and cold, love and hate, conflict and reconciliation. I loved the ending.

Have you read a novel where you loved the ending?

Passing: Poems, by Eloise Klein Healy

passing

I’ve been meaning to read Healy’s poetry for some time and was happy to find this 2002 collection. Unlike Nella Larsen’s novel, passing here has no racial connotations. Instead, as indicated in the title poem, “These are the days that must happen / to you, Mr. Whitman says.”

The passing days embodied in these poems are ones that happen to many of us: the loss of a father, a friend’s breast cancer. And even if the experiences are unfamiliar—such as when she writes about the impact of her coming out: the end of her marriage, the changes in other relationships—the emotions are all too recognisable.

Her elegies for the friends who have died too soon of AIDS or other causes are particularly moving. She finds just the right balance of praise, grief, beauty, and occasionally humor. Sometimes it’s an image that surprises me into grief, such as in “Postcard” the sudden vision of “a room in which the chair of an artist / painted by another artist sits empty” reminding me of all the grief and loss around the relationship between Van Gogh and Gauguin. Sometimes it’s a particular memory, such as in “Louganis” the way people turned on the beautiful and celebrated diver when he contracted AIDS.

One of my friends gets wrought up about poems where, if you remove the line breaks, read like prose. Lovely prose, perhaps, but prose nonetheless. It’s a danger when you employ a conversational style. There are a few like that here, sometimes redeemed by a gorgeous or startling image at the end. Curiously, these are mostly ones about hackneyed or sentimental themes: a sunset on the beach, a spiritual experience. It makes sense to choose a more prosaic style for these to undercut any tendency toward grandiosity.

There are many more pieces that do work beautifully as poems, making me go back and forth trying to pinpoint why they work and not the others. What I found were the usual suspects: compression, fresh imagery, word choice, gaps we must leap over. Sometimes repetition. Sometimes the spacing lends a weight to the words that they would not have if run together like prose, making us stop and pay attention in a different way.

And I found one of the things I love best in a poem: a gradual unfolding, as though a flower opens petal by petal to reveal its heart. Such is the poem that is my favorite, partly because it speaks so intimately to me. The title is a line from Rilke’s “The Torso of Apollo”, one that has dominated much of my life. It sent me on a year-long journey during which I wrote the poems in my own first collection. And, well, trees. Here is the beginning of “You Must Change Your Life”:

The stories say your animal will tell you
what you must do.
The tale from Nicaragua adds this—
that life in the city is cleansed of the animal
and you must go to the trees
so your animal can tell you what to change.

When I write about trees
I know I’m talking about love.

My animal is a tree
and my trees are birds
and my birds are animals
who burst from there walking
into a sky waiting for this transformation
as if it had nothing else to do
but receive.

It goes on, opening more and more, as does this collection, rewarding closer study.

Is there a poem or perhaps an image from a book that has stayed with you? One that speaks to you and what your life is like right now?

The Lathe of Heaven, by Ursula K. Le Guin

lathe

I read a lot of science fiction in my teens, mostly because my older brother was into it and let me raid his library. Then I read a lot of scifi/fantasy in my late twenties; I was in a difficult place and wanted to be anywhere else. It helped. So during this tense and terrifying week, I returned to that strategy. It’s been long enough that those books are ripe for rereading.

This 1971 novel begins with a man waking up amid fallen concrete blocks feeling dizzy and nauseated. Eventually a medic brings him around, shocked by how many different meds the man had taken.

George Orr has been taking multiple medications to keep himself from dreaming, because his dreams come true—literally. Not all of his dreams, but now and then he has what he calls an “effective” dream and when he wakes, the world has changed to conform to that dream. And he is the only one who knows that has happened; he is the only one who remembers the way the world was before.

As a result of his overdose, he is sent to Dr. Haber, a psychiatrist working on a machine similar to an EEG that can control the type of waves in a patient’s brain to induce dreaming. Over the course of the book Haber uses his machine coupled with hypnotic suggestion to try to instigate and control George’s dreams. But the effect is usually unpredictable and sometimes catastrophic, because dream logic comes up with its own way of implementing Haber’s directions.

One constant, though, is that with each dream Haber gets a promotion and more power. He claims he only wants power in order to help people by solving the terrible problems in society. But Haber’s vision of an ideal society is a little scary given his belief in utilitarianism and eugenics. Haber’s ability to implement his beliefs using George’s dreams combined with his own insatiable hunger for power and fame drive the world down a dangerous path.

We writers are advised that, along with hooking the reader’s attention, we should use the first page to teach the reader how to read our book. Make sure they know what genre it is. Identify the protagonist, their goal, and what or who is preventing them from achieving it. Give at least a hint of what themes will be explored. I have to say that rereading the first page of this book after finishing it changed the story for me and filled me with awe at Le Guin’s mastery of the craft.

What’s also interesting is how much Le Guin is able to explore different philosophies and approaches without slowing the story. In my workshops we’ve been talking about generating suspense, and she has definitely crafted a page-turner. George’s dreams and the new world each creates are fascinating. And often destructive, to the point where one wonders how this world can possibly survive.

Well, out of the frying pan, as my mother used to say. It felt like the story of the last four years, right from the first page: waking up to an unrecognisable world, one that has changed in catastrophic ways. Still, I’m glad I read it this week. And now things have changed again. Someone has had a good dream.

Do you read scifi/fantasy? Why?

Blackberries, Blackberries, by Crystal Wilkinson

blackberries

Wilkinson’s first book is a collection of short stories—perfect for my attention span just now! These stories feature Black women in rural Kentucky, young and old, each with her individual take on the world, her own idea of herself.

In some stories, such as “Tipping the Scales”, we meet women who can’t be bothered by society’s conventions. A big woman, “not sloppy fat, though,” Josephina Childs has “sure had her hands full in the men department most all her life.” All her life she’s been aware of how “the whole town ‘bout tripped over” themselves to find out what was going on with her mother in the house Ethel’s lover build for them. So when Josephina wants children, she goes ahead and has them. I could hardly wait to find out what happens as she charts her own path among the gossiping townsfolk.

A few stories are from a man’s point of view, such as “Mine” in which Joe Scruggs complains about his former girlfriend Racine. She’d left him when she found out he was cheating on her. Now he sees that she has cut the long, straightened hair he’d loved in favor of short natural hair. Worse than that, she’s had breast reduction surgery and “black women do not get their breasts worked on.” The voice is pitch perfect as Joe thinks about what he sees as Racine’s insult to him and about Darlene, the woman he cheated with, now his wife. It’s a strong indictment of a man’s idea of ownership.

Wilkinson’s use of voice carries each of these stories. Without resorting to dialect, she captures the individual rhythms of her characters’ thoughts and speech. In “Mules” she finds just the right voice for a naïve girl, just starting to develop and learning to navigate the complicated and risky world of men. In “Deviled Eggs” Wilkinson gives voice to a young girl who is dragged along when her mother goes to her job as a domestic servant and has a startling lesson in racism from the elderly white woman who thinks she is doing the child a favor. In “Need” we meet three characters in a café, two women embarking on a difficult conversation and their male waiter, each with a distinctive voice.

I’ve been thinking recently about the shape of short stories, how they begin, how they end. The variety of story shapes is this collection is part of what makes it so enticing. Some stories spiral back to their beginning, while others rise to a new understanding. Many for me ended in ways that surprised me, taking a direction I hadn’t expected: Wilkinson displaying the penchant for independence we see in many of her characters. I love being surprised!

In every story, Wilkinson demonstrates the writer’s mantra that the personal is universal. These may be Black women in Appalachia, but I saw myself in each of them. Reading their stories has been a gift, and I look forward to reading more of her work.

Do you like reading short stories? Can you recommend a collection?

Trip Wire, by Charlotte Carter

tripwire

Another mystery, this time set in Chicago in December of 1968. It’s the end of a tumultuous year that saw the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy, the Summer of Love, and in Chicago itself the violence around the Democratic National Convention.

Seeking independence, Cassandra has left the home of her well-off grandaunt and granduncle to live in a multiracial commune in a questionable part of town. She’s in her early 20s, cutting college classes to read books on politics and social justice. When she met Wilt, a charismatic Black man, she found a friend who was on the same wavelength, and was delighted when he encouraged her to join the commune where he and his white partner Mia lived along with several others.

She delights in her new freedom and friends, happy to have found a family she has chosen rather than the over-protective relatives who took her in after her parents’ death. There are tensions, not only family issues but also marijuana use perhaps affecting her schoolwork, sexual freedom coming up against learned ideas about relationships, decisions about who else to admit into the commune.

Then they discover the brutally murdered bodies of two of their members. As Cassandra tries to untangle why they were killed, she is confronted by how little she knows about her new friends, while navigating the questionable tactics of the police and resisting her family’s attempts to make her come home.

The secrets and hidden agendas that make mysteries so fascinating are well-constructed here. The story kept me guessing, surprising me at times. I also found Cassandra a realistic and intriguing woman, simultaneously familiar and different, someone I enjoyed spending time with. All the characters come alive, not just their flaws and fine points, but also the different worlds they straddle.

Carter succeeds in capturing this period, which I remember only too clearly. Seeing it again through the eyes of a young Black woman, with all the additional hurdles and advantages, fascinated me. For example, much as most of us hippies distrusted the police, a person of color has more factors when deciding whether to call them when a crime is committed.

And thinking of the differences and similarities of the country during that election and the current one has given me a slightly different perspective on today. Change is hard, and the Age of Aquarius which once seemed within reach is something we are still seeking.

Anyone who is interested in a glimpse of what the 1960s were like, looking beyond the memes and stereotypes, will enjoy this book, as will mystery readers. I’ll be looking for more books in Carter’s Cook County mystery series.

What do you look for in a mystery series?

In a Dry Season, by Peter Robinson

dry season

This summer’s drought and the dire predictions of a shortage of potable water made me think of this mystery from the author of the DCI Banks series. Of course, the metaphorical interpretation is just as important. The disasters roaring across the U.S. and the world have left many writers—and others—paralysed.

It’s been 20 years since I first read this book and found it even more fascinating this time around.

A prolonged drought has uncovered a Yorkshire village that had been buried under a reservoir for decades. Although it is supposed to be off-limits, a local boy can’t resist exploring the buildings and unexpectedly discovers a skeleton. Banks is sent to investigate by his Chief Constable as punishment for an earlier clash between the two.

Assisted by the local DS, Annie Cabbot, Banks tries to identify the skeleton and reconstruct the events of 50 years earlier. At the same time, the events resonate with him, reminding him of Jem, a friend from his younger days who came to a sad end. Then there’s Annie Cabbot. Still mourning the end of his marriage ten years earlier, for the first time Banks feels the stirrings of attraction.

As if those threads were not enough, interwoven with the investigation and Banks’s memories is a first-person account by a then-young woman of the village during the Second World War, as well as the story of an elderly novel-writer being harassed by anonymous phone calls.

A writer in the middle of writing their first novel remarked to me the other day, “This is hard! There are so many things to keep track of.”

It’s true. Novels have so many moving pieces, it’s hard to keep track of them all. Has this minor character appeared often enough that a reader wouldn’t have forgotten them? Did this theme work its way into every part of the story? Did I remember what season it was, what day of the week, what color that character’s eyes are? Writing a mystery is even worse; you have all those red herrings and unreliable characters to work in.

I’m stunned by how well Robinson manages the complexity of his storylines here. I use spreadsheets, outlines, journals and hand-drawn maps, and have replaced physical index cards with virtual ones. It’s not uncommon to peek into an author’s study and find one or more walls completely covered with notes and drawings and maps. Novelist Laura Lippman sometimes posts pictures of her insanely complicated charts.

I don’t know what Robinson’s process is, but the effect here is amazing. So many disparate threads, each with their own continuity, bouncing off each other. The timing is perfect. Just when you are starting to think, What has happened to . . .? that thread reemerges.

And with each scene, information emerges prompting new questions, heightening the suspense, making me ask—as my three-year-old friend often bursts out with in the middle of a story—What’s going to happen? Best of all, everything that does happen grows organically out of the story, without artificial dramatics.

Reading and thinking about an amazing story helps to bring rain to my dry places. Writing a novel is hard, but Peter Robinson makes it look easy.

Have you read any of the Inspector Banks series? Is there another mystery series you’d recommend?

Old New Worlds, by Judith Krummeck

Subtitled A Tale of Two Immigrants, this book is both a memoir and an historical reimagining. In February of 1815 Sarah Barker, formerly a servant, and her new husband George, a missionary, set sail from Portsmouth, England bound for South Africa.

Whatever we may think of missionaries and colonialism today, it was an extraordinarily courageous thing to do. It is a brave thing to embark on a marriage—how much more so when it means leaving behind your country and culture; knowing that you will rarely, if ever, be able to return for a visit; unsure of what you will find when you arrive.

Two hundred years later, Sarah’s great-great granddaughter, writer and broadcaster Judith Krummeck, newly married, left South Africa for the United States. (Full disclosure: Krummeck and her husband are friends of mine.)

With a gentle but assured touch, Krummeck explores that transition, showing this country from an outsider’s point of view. She looks at the nuances of belonging, of creating a home in a new place. Unlike Sarah, her experience is complicated by the possibility of return, for visits or perhaps even permanently.

Much of the memoir portion also invites us into her process of learning about her great-great grandmother, not just burying herself in library reading rooms, but figuring out how to walk the tightrope between being true to the time period and the urge to impose today’s values on the actions of her imagined great-great grandparents. To her relief, the records show that George Barker did in fact treat his parishioners with respect and tried to protect them from the colonial administration.

The book is well-researched, drawing on Barker’s letters and journals as well as other sources. An extensive bibliography is provided. For all that, Sarah’s life, her thoughts and feelings are undocumented. Krummeck explains that Sarah is almost never mentioned in George’s writings, so she has had to use her imagination to fill in the gaps.

Of course it is no surprise that so little is known about Sarah. At that time, the lives of ordinary women were not considered worth documenting. Indeed, it is only recently that historians have begun concerning themselves with ordinary life, much less the lives of women.

For Sarah’s story alone I love this book, as I love any that fill in that empty space in the shape of a woman. Entwining it with Krummeck’s physical and emotional adjustment to America adds depth and resonance to the themes explored here.

As the pandemic spread and stayed, most of us have had to rethink our ideas of home. We look at our once adequate spaces with new eyes, trying to gauge where work can be done, children can be schooled, perhaps even an infected family member isolated. I remember how, as a child in a large family, I was constantly seeking out spaces to be private. Confined to the house, many people are experiencing that now.

So it is a good time to consider what it means to be at home: the place where we are born and the one we choose, the house we create and the family we construct, the country we call home and the landscapes we inhabit. This delightful book reminds us of what we inherit and what we make for ourselves.

What does home mean to you?

A Visit to London

Tavistock Sq

Today is a Significant Day for me, and I am celebrating by going to London.

Not really, of course. With the pandemic restrictions and my own abundance of caution, I can’t just hop on a flight. But I can visit one of my favorite cities virtually.

When I go, I always visit the Tate to see the Turners and the National Gallery for the Pre-Raphaelites. I can’t explain it, but I am fascinated by the National Portrait Gallery and by the Foundling Museum (though it makes me cry). I always try to get to the British Museum, especially since I usually stay in Bloomsbury. I go to the Royal Maritime Museum and am shocked all over again by the size of the James Caird, the tiny boat Shackleton and a few men used to travel 800 miles in terrible conditions to reach South Georgia Island and get help for his stranded crew. Many of these collections are available online.

My favorite parks are, well, all of them. I try to walk through St. James’s Park and visit the Peter Pan statue in Kensington Gardens. I’m partial to the Chelsea Physic Garden and Holland Park’s Kyoto Garden. There are plenty of London videos online to supplement my photos from previous visits.

And I always try to go to the theatre. One long weekend I saw five plays, with incredible actors such as Jeremy Irons, Judi Dench, and Alan Rickman–or was that another time? I very much enjoyed the National Theatre Live and Shakespeare’s Globe productions that were available online for free last summer. Some shows are still available at both, though you may have to pay for them, but it’s good to support these venues. I’ve enjoyed their shows in London, too. Once the only seat available for Warhorse was in the front row, which gave an astonishing view of the “trenches”.

Toast and marmalade for breakfast, a cheese and chutney sandwich for lunch, and fish and chips for dinner should set me up quite nicely.

Road Scholar (formerly Elderhostel) has a wonderful listing of online resources for a virtual tour of London.

But of course books are my ultimate imaginative vehicle, so I’ll dip into Mrs. Dalloway, have tea with Barbara Pym’s Excellent Women, and see the changing of the guard with Christopher Robin and Alice. I’ll tour Sir John Soane’s quirky museum again via Christopher Woodwards In Ruins and walk along the Embankment with Elswyth Thane’s Tryst.

And of course I’ll draw on my own memories for this tryst with a city where I—to my surprise—have always felt as though I have found my real home.

Where are you going today?

Free Food

Screenshot_2020-09-27 Resources – Edible Brattleboro

Today I’m giving away food.

I volunteer with a local nonprofit, Edible Brattleboro, to plant help-yourself gardens around town and, from July through October, operate a weekly Share the Harvest stand where we give away vegetables donated by farmers at the end of the farmers’ market, harvested from our gardens, and donated by local gardeners. This COVID year, when so many are struggling, we’re also part of the town’s Everyone Eats program that funds restaurants to make meals to give away.

Trying to get by on food stamps back when I was on welfare opened my eyes to the hunger in this prosperous country, now broadened to food insecurity. That first winter I quickly realised that most fresh vegetables were too expensive for my tiny food stamp allotment, so I relied on the cheapest things I could find, like carrots, cabbage and turnips. I also put the tops of the root vegetables in a saucer of water and used the fresh greens that sprouted.

Luckily we were not in a food desert; there was always an expensive spa a few blocks away and a cheaper grocery store within a couple of miles. However, when I didn’t have a car, walking to the grocery could take all morning, and I could only carry what would fit in the stroller basket and my backpack. In summer, there was no way to keep frozen food safe on the walk home.

What saved me was being able to cook.

The summer I was 12, my mother boycotted the kitchen and assigned me the job of cooking dinner for our family of eight. My culinary skills were limited—I could make a sandwich, pour a bowl of cold cereal, heat up a can of soup, and make toast—but she promised to teach me. That didn’t happen. Sometimes she’d answer a question or offer a suggestion, but mostly I relied on her battered Good Housekeeping Cook Book.

cookbook

Thus I not only learned the basics of cooking but also the astounding truth that I could learn whatever I needed to know from a book.

So years later, when I realised I couldn’t afford fresh vegetables, I turned to books for the new skills I needed. They taught me how to turn a vacant lot into a vegetable garden and how to can the excess tomatoes it produced. They taught me how to make jam from the wild blueberries I gathered and applesauce from seconds at nearby orchards.

Before I moved away from Maryland, I volunteered with Maryland Hunger Solutions whose motto is “Ending Hunger in Maryland”. They work with state and community partners to help Maryland residents get nutritious foods. As a former food stamp recipient I helped bring a real-life perspective.

One thing that was quickly brought home to me was how lucky I had been to be able to cook meals from scratch. Many people living in poverty either don’t have cooking facilities or never learned to cook. One food bank organiser told me she often couldn’t even give away pasta because people didn’t know how to cook it. Many people rely on expensive and less nutritious packaged foods they can simply heat up.

The founders of Edible Brattleboro—”Grow Food Everywhere for Everyone”—were inspired by a Ted talk by Pam Warhurst, explaining how the tiny village of Todmorden in England turned plots of unused land into communal vegetable gardens. We have also been inspired by Ron Finley’s work creating gardens in open land in South Central LA. He says, “Growing your own food is like printing your own money.”

We’ve also been following Leah Penniman and Soul Fire Farm, which defines itself as “a BIPOC*-centered community farm committed to ending racism and injustice in the food system. . . *BIPOC = Black, Indigenous, and People of Color”. I am especially drawn to their commitment to the ancestors. “With deep reverence for the land and wisdom of our ancestors, we work to reclaim our collective right to belong to the earth and to have agency in the food system.” Penniman’s book is called Farming While Black: Soul Fire Farm’s Practical Guide to Liberation on the Land.

Back when I was gardening in the vacant lot, I also got involved with a group starting a land trust, a fairly new concept in the 1970s, in the hopes of eventually renting a farm through them.

Over the years I’ve heard of land trusts for conservation purposes, but was excited to learn recently of the BIPOC Land and Food Sovereignty Fund organized by The SUSU Healing Collective, whose purpose is to help BIPOC farmers here in Vermont. There is also the Northeast Farmers of Color Land Trust. Both are worthy of our support.

Let us look for a moment at what we have in common rather than what divides us. We all need food. We all want to feed our families the best food possible and to support good causes. So I’m off to give away free food to anyone who comes by the stand.

Note: While I call this a book blog, it is essentially about stories. This post is full of them: Pam Warburton’s, Ron Finley’s, Leah Penniman’s, my own.

Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, by Olga Tokarczuk

drive

An unusual and fascinating novel, Tokarczuk’s book explores the border between poetry and prose, story and fairy tale. The quirky voice of the narrator is firmly established with the first sentence and sustained throughout the book.

Living alone in an isolated community in western Poland, Janina is an older woman who manages the griefs that accumulate over the years, her vocation of astrology, and the translations of William Blake’s poetry that she and a friend are doing. Despite her various physical ailments, she looks after the other homes during the winter, making sure the martens don’t get in and the pipes don’t freeze. Only two other people live there during the winter, Oddball and Big Foot. These are her names for them, as she names almost all the characters.

Then Big Foot turns up dead under mysterious circumstances. He was a loathsome creature in her eyes, a poacher who didn’t care how cruelly he hurt the animals he snared, someone who showed no respect for the non-animal natural world either, cutting down trees for no reason. Yet his death moves her. Oddball insists that the two of them wash and dress the body before the police come. She says:

There we stood in the cold, damp room, in the frosty vacuum prevailing at this dull, gray time of night, and it crossed my mind that the thing that leaves the body sucks a piece of the world after it, and no matter how good or bad it was, how guilty or blameless, it leaves behind a great big void.

Such a powerful way to describe a death. Their call to the police is delayed because not only is the signal spotty, but they often get a signal from the other side of the nearby Czech border instead of their own signal.

Borders are a recurring image, not just between countries, but between a remote community and town, fields and forests, humans and animals, grief and love, one person’s truth and another’s, language and reality. In fields near her house the hunters from town have erected huts they call “pulpits” where they hide in order to shoot the animals that come near, lured by the food the hunters have spread. I’m jarred by the idea of doing murder, preaching murder from a pulpit. Yet it’s so true.

More deaths follow, stranger and stranger. But there are greater mysteries here. What life is worth more than another? What actions are justified by law or ethics, and which one dominates the other? Are we as helpless as we think we are? How do our homes, so meticulously described in this book, reflect us and nurture us and protect us—or not? What is our relationship with the wild, meaning the portion of the natural world that we do not manage?

The title is from Blake, as are epigraphs for each chapter, adding to the fantastical atmosphere. The story sometimes feels like a fable, sometimes a prose poem, sometimes a wrenching view of age and isolation, sometimes a paean to friendship. For Janina does have friends: Oddball, her neighbor; Dizzy, her compatriot in translating Blake; Good News, who runs a second-hand store in town; Boros, an entomologist she meets in the woods.

I found this book so rich, so thought-provoking that I not only listened to the audio book, repeating many chapters two or three times, but also bought the paperback book and am reading it. I loved the narrator’s performance in the audio book, but with the physical book I am seeing different things, appreciating different things—mostly to do with language. Thus, I’m continuing the story’s exploration of borders between one sense and another, between the physical and the metaphysical.

Have you read a novel so fascinating that you immediately reread it?