In The Writing Life, Annie Dillard wrote,
I have been looking into schedules. Even when we read physics, we inquire of each least particle, What then shall I do this morning? How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time.
On the first of each month, a guest writer shares how he or she spends the day.
June 1, 2013: Christine Schutt
Prosperous Friends is one of those little books I love, a rectangle only slightly larger than my hand. The language is spare–no wasted words–something I aspire to. And it’s about relationships (marriages)–my favorite subject. I was destined to love it, particularly after reading and loving Florida.
Prosperous Friends is the story of four couples: Ed and Aura (of the prologue and epilogue), Ned and Isabel, Ben and Phoebe, and Clive and Dinah.
The prologue and epilogue, which put me in mind of a Greek myth, are bookends to the main story. And the prologue begins like one of those stories my parents used to read to me when I was little.
Such exorbitant crying! Just when the old woman thought she had stopped crying, the girl would start again.
The old woman is Aura, and her husband Ed is “eighty-two and proud of it.” The story of Aura and Ed serves as a measuring stick or as an anchor to the “real” world where people have “normal” marriages and stay married.
Aura is wed to him and can say, not without astonishment, that she has known him for fifty years, forty-four of which they have been married.
The structure is ten chapters, titled by place and year (counting the prologue and epilogue as chapters). If you like a lot of words, if you like a lot of connective tissue, you are not going to like this book. It’s built on short scenes juxtaposed one against the other. Justin Taylor, in a wonderful review in the New York Observer, writes this:
While her sentences are lyrical and flowing—she is perhaps the single best practitioner of the acoustical clustering technique Mr. Lish has described as “consecution”—her scenes tend to be stripped-down and brutally juxtaposed.
–the accusatory mirror that his wife was (34)
–When had Isabel stopped smiling? (61)
–I need to be happy more of the time… (62)
Metaphor recognized by a character:
At a skating rink: The Dartmouth man said, ‘Just hold on.’ // Here were the words she had lived by… (91)
Simile (alliteration of harsh sounds mirroring content) plus the power of juxtaposition of words (I read ‘common’ as also applying to their fights):
‘What’s the matter now?’ Isabel asks. Common as a kitchen cut, her question starts a fight. (101)
The sky, Ned saw, was an ordinary blue, and the sunset was minor, and where they lived and how they lived was small. (107)
Reminds me of James Salter’s poetic prose:
‘Sally wants to visit.’ This, over a late, late lunch that would serve as dinner, just the two of them, a picnic, a bully bread with a leather crust and other hard food, like salami, and iced coffee–bitter and no cream to cut it, no sugar. (117)
And I will leave you with humor:
Dinah said, ‘What if the hokey pokey really is what it’s all about?’
Come back on JUNE 1st to read how Christine Schutt spends her days.
The next writer in the series is announced as close to the 8th of each month as possible so you can read ahead!