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.
September 1, 2013: Sheri Joseph
I was trying to remember how I first discovered Sheri Joseph. So I went to my bookshelf and pulled down her first novel–the big, thick hardback Stray. (When I reached for it, the two books resting on top of it fell behind the shelf. When I retrieved those two, three other books fell on top of me and to the floor, and one of those was A. M. Homes’ In a Country Of Mothers–now I want to reread that).
Anyway, when I opened Stray, I found two things (I’m always sticking things in my books): a print out of Sheri’s page from the Georgia State English Department (where she teaches-several years ago we exchanged emails about my joining her class on novel writing) and a Grub Street Book Prize bookmark with Stray as the winner of the 2007 Prize.
And then I had a visual–the table at AWP (the MacAdam Cage table) the stacks of books. The cover (there to the right) of Sheri’s book that caused me to pick it up and then open it (click on it to see it larger). In large green print at the top of the inside flap: A musician is torn between his perfect wife and a young actor in an unconventional, inescapable love triangle. Well of course I bought the book. (Luckily AWP was in Atlanta in 2007 so instead of worrying about weight, I could pile books high in my car.)
I’ve been waiting for Sheri to write another book ever since.
In March, at AWP in Boston, I ran into Sheri and asked her when she was going to write another book, and she said, “I already did.”
One of the things I like about Sheri’s novels is that she doesn’t write about easy subjects. (If you only want to read about pleasant topics, these books are not for you.) And she doesn’t shy away from the hard thing. She just keeps pushing and pushing until she reaches the hidden thing, the rotten thing, the beautiful ugly honest truth.
For the sake of symmetry, I’m turning now to the top of the book flap of Where You Can Fine Me. In large print at the top, here’s what I find: A searing exploration of a family’s struggle to heal in the wake of unthinkable tragedy. Yes.
As I mentioned in the post I wrote about Sheri’s launch, Where You Can Find Me begins after Caleb, who was abducted at age 11, returns home three years later. The point of view shifts with elegance and without confusion. Sheri’s sentences show the struggle going on inside each of the family members, including Caleb himself, as they try to make sense of who Caleb used to be and who Caleb is now.
After their few days of monitored visits in Spokane then the roughly twenty-six hours he’d been at home, she had only just become certain in recognizing his shape at this distance, the narrow beauty of his adolescence… From behind the metal-framed glasses he’d chosen without her, or that had been chosen for him, his eyes looked not at his hands but somewhere into the body of the piano… Of all the questions she was afraid to ask him, how could What was that you were playing? be one of them? (2-3)
From Caleb’s 11-year-old sister Lark:
[H]e was nothing like what she’d expected a returned brother to be. (8)
From Jeff his father:
God, what kind of father was he, resenting his son for taking his son away? (13)
He was playing himself. What would Caleb say now? (15)
In this passage Lark refers to the place where Caleb had been as The Gone:
By the time she thought to look back, the Land Rover had been swallowed in green and she was alone in the forest… Only as an afterthought did it occur to her that if he could be lost, so could she. The Gone, she was certain, might be entered this fast, this close to the familiar: Dorothy up in the tornado, Alice down the rabbit hole. A door in the back of a wardrobe–go through it, and you were somewhere else. The way back sealed itself, disappeared. Run back now and no one would blame her. But she didn’t feel that much fear, continued stepping forward. If this was the Gone, she wanted to see what was in it. (105)
Some particularly vivid descriptions:
The sun rested on the shelf of the next mountain as if some hand had set it there. (105)
a grin waiting in one corner of his mouth like a string he could tug in an emergency, to turn it all into a joke (128)
Let’s end sitting at the feet of Caleb’s grandmother…
I try to remember that it’s easier to love the idea of someone than the actual person in front of you. So much simpler to love Javier now. Even my little Lark–of course I adore her, but it’s a bit different than when she was far away. With separation comes all that yearning. You create a person in your head who cannot exist. (253)
Come back on SEPTEMBER 1st to read how SHERI JOSEPH spends her days.
The next writer in the series is announced around the 8th of each month–so you can read ahead!