This book by Patrick DeWitt just about fulfils my every need – a mix between Deadwood and Cormac McCarthy. On a sentence level it is music, surprising you every now and then with a great metaphor. On a whole book level it is full of suspense and dare I say it – plot. Within moments the reader is feeling warmth for the killer, Eli and disdain for his brother Charlie.
When Charlie and Eli enter a cabin inhabited by a witch-like woman DeWitt writes;
“Charlie’s face had grown hard.’This isn’t your cabin, is it?’
At this she stiffened, and did not look to be breathing. She pulled back her rags, and in the firelight and lamplight I saw she had almost no hair on her head, only white tufts here and there, and her skull was dented, appearing soft in places, pushed in like an old piece of fruit. ‘Every heart has a tone,’ she said to Charlie,’just as every bell has one. Your heart’s tone is most oppressive to hear, young man. It is hurtful to my ears, and your eyes hurt my eyes to look at them.'”
“She had little to say about love, fidelity or morals. She talked about money, and his failure to find work; and when she mentioned the lady of his choice, it was not as a siren who had stolen his love, but as the cause of the shiftlessness that lately had come over him. He broke in frequently, making excuses for himself, and repeating that there was no work, and insisting bitterly that if Mrs Biederhof had come into his life, a guy was entitled to some peace, instead of a constant nagging over things that lay beyond his control. They spoke quickly, as though they were saying things that scalded their mouths, and had to be cooled with spit. Indeed, the whole scene had an ancient, almost classical ugliness to it, for they uttered the same recriminations that have been uttered since the beginning of marriage, and added little of originality to them, and nothing of beauty.”
“She was a thin, dark woman of forty or so, with lines on her face that might have come from care, and might have come from liquor.”
“Tell me a story, Pew.
What kind of story, child?
A story with a happy ending.
There’s no such thing in all the world.
As a happy ending?
As an ending.”
“I had, and have, no visual ability to remember how words are put together. I can recognise them when I see them. But unless they’re in front of me, I can’t recall the vowels they contain. I have no command over whether they contain single or double letters. The closest metaphor I can come up with is that it is like being able to recognise hundreds of different faces but being incapable of producing any sort of likeness of any of them with a pencil and paper….The dyslexia didn’t much hamper my reading. What it affected was my writing. I couldn’t spell anything! In an early short story I wrote, a woman who works in a five-and-ten at one point exclaims, ‘Customers! Customers! Customers!’ All three were spelled differently – and all three were wrong. I could not spell the word paper three times right in a row!”
“I once brought a girl home because I liked her shoes. That was the only thing I noticed about her. I live in a really small apartment. A lot of my clothes end up piled on my mattress or draped over the open door of the microwave. I guess the girl with the pink high heels woke up in the middle of the night and didn’t remember where she was. She went out naked in the hall and closed the door behind her. She said that she had asked me, and I told her that was the way to the bathroom, to go out the front door. I don’t remember doing that. I remember I woke up with the cops in the house, asking me if I knew this girl. I said of course, she was the girl with the pink high heels. They thought that was really funny. After that I didn’t drink for about five months.”
“…make an honest platform of story in your mind, like a raft, using the sound timber of everything you’ve loved and read. As with any raft, it may sometimes feel unsteady: it may falter under the weight it must carry, and, over time, it will need repair. It may not withstand the sea for all eternity but nor does it need to – it needs to last a lifespan, nothing more. For the time that it does hold together, you can stand on it like Robinson Crusoe and look back at the site of your own shipwreck, and you can say to yourself, as he did, grateful for being able to say it, ‘I am here, not there.'”
“He took a gulp of whiskey, seeing a quick blur of stars and moon through the wet dome of his glass. Then he started back for the house, but he didn’t make it; he had to turn around again and head out to the far border of the lawn and walk around out there in little circles; he was crying.
It was the smell of spring in the air that did it – earth and flowers – because it was almost exactly a year now since the time of the Laurel Players, and to remember the Laurel Players was to remember April Wheeler’s way of walking across the stage, and her smile, and the sound of her voice (‘Wouldn’t you like to be loved by me?’) , and in remembering all this there was nothing for Shep Campbell to do but walk around on the grass and cry, a big wretched baby with his fist in his mouth and the warm tears spilling down his knuckles.
He found it so easy and so pleasant to cry that he didn’t try to stop for a while, until he realised he was forcing his sobs a little, exaggerating their depth with unnecessary shudders. Then, ashamed of himself, he bent over and carefully set his glass on the grass, got out his handkerchief and blew his nose.
The whole point of crying was to quit before you cornied it. The whole point of grief itself was to cut it out while it was still honest, while it still meant something. Because the thing was so easily corrupted: let yourself go and you started embellishing your own sobs, or you started telling about the Wheelers with a sad, sentimental smile and saying Frank was courageous and then what the hell did you have?”
The boy had a go. He planted himself on the ground and kicked at the door. He kicked and kicked, first a hard low kick and then a one-two kung-fu kick. He took a few steps back and, like a high jumper, standing on the balls of his feet, gathering concentration, he readied for a run-up: he launched himself against the door. At the point of impact there came a dull thud. He did this again. Over and over, uncomplaining. He picked himself up, wincing and walked back to his starting position, lifted his heels, ran at the door. But the door was oak and he was boy: his shirt was torn and bloodied. He snuck a glance at the woman and with a slow blink she encouraged him to continue. In the end he forced an opening.”
“When my father was an old man, he surprised me by remarking that he understood what my mother’s death meant to me but had no idea what to do about it. I think it would have been something if he had just said this. If he didn’t it was possibly because he thought there was nothing he or anybody else could do. Or he may have thought I would reject any help he tried to give me. As a small child I sometimes had the earache, and I would go to him and ask him to blow cigar smoke in my ear. He would stop talking and draw me toward him and with his lips almost touching my ear breathe warm smoke into it. It was as good a remedy as any, and it was physically intimate. One night – I don’t know how old I was, five or six, maybe – bedtime came and I kissed my mother good night as usual and then went over to my father and as I leaned toward him he said I was too old for that anymore. By the standards of the time and that place I expect I was, but I had wanted to anyway. And how was I to express the feeling I had for him? He didn’t say then or ever. In that moment my feeling for him changed and became wary and unconfident.”
“There are reason for the appeal of bold writing that go beyond fascination of watching authors in danger of breaking their literary necks. Good writing is honest, alive. The more honest and alive our writing, the more we show ourselves. The more we show ourselves, the greater danger we’re in. The greater danger we’re in the more scared we are. Hence fear is a marker on the path towards good writing. “When you stiffen,” said Toni Morrison of anxious moments while writing a novel, ” you know that whatever you stiffen about is very important. The stuff is important, the fear itself is information.”