Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Patient Storytelling


We watched Remains of the Day again the other night. It’s a film that’s commendable in its own right, for its own reasons and successes within the medium, but one of the things I really appreciated about it, after all of these years, is the pace of the storytelling. From the opening shots, you know to adjust your posture. It’s a sinking-into-your-chair type of story, rather than a gripping-the-armrests affair. It’s the same patience on display in Ishiguro’s fine novel, which has no problem discussing the dusting of portraits in an estate’s library on the very first page of the book. Can you imagine the reactions if Ishiguro had to query his novel today? Dusting on the first page? Ruminations about a letter? The discussion of a butler’s duties? When does the STORY start??? they’d say.

Kent Haruf’s final novel will be released next week. Our Souls at Night was written during his final convalescence; he died last November from lung disease. The novel is said to be an homage to the love story with his wife Cathy. All of Haruf’s novels are set in small towns and in each, his characters are average people living, for the most part, quiet lives. It is this gift of bringing luminescence and deep resonance to the ordinary that was Haruf’s greatest gift. In his breakout novel, Plainsong, the daily routines of two elderly bachelors are relayed with great care and affection. This new novel focuses on older characters as well, a widow and widower who have agreed to lie together at night for companionship, and during these evenings, they examine their lives. I haven’t read the novel yet, but it is my most anticipated book of the year. But wait… Two old people resting in bed? When does the STORY start???

It seems to me, as it always has, that life takes place mostly in the spaces between dramatic events. Sometimes there are births and deaths; once in a while a trip changes your life or an unexpected romance develops. But most of us will pass through life without an accidental immersion into espionage or a true love bursting in to halt a misguided wedding. Most of us spend our lives gaining frequent sustenance from the small things: the grip of a hand, the discovery of a secret, the meeting of eyes across a room. It’s the unspoken and the spoken, and between these human exchanges, we have lots of time to ourselves, don’t we? There is dusting and laundry, early mornings and late nights of worry, and the mental gymnastics of what we could have and should have and would have said or done. So for me, patient storytelling has always been closer to the actuality of life; this, along with prose that suits its story, and characters with beating hearts. These are the stories that resonate most deeply with me.

1 comment:

  1. Patient storytelling takes a special temperament, and a slow, deep reading not many people appreciate these days, if the media is to be believed. Kent Haruf was recommended by Scott on FB and on his blog. He even, kindly, posted two Haruf books to me, which I read and returned. From thereon I was a fan too.
    Can't wait for 'Our Souls at Night,' to be published, his swan song.


"As soon as we express something, we devalue it strangely. We believe ourselves to have dived down into the depths of the abyss, and when we once again reach the surface, the drops of water on our pale fingertips no longer resemble the ocean from which they came...Nevertheless, the treasure shimmers in the darkness unchanged." ---Franz Kafka