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.
~Annie Dillard, The Writing Life
On the first of each month,
a guest writer
how they spend the day.
December 1, 2023: Sara Lippmann
In Lech, Sara Lippman’s debut novel, a short prologue situates us in the summer of 2014 in Sullivan County, New York.
Ponds are called lakes. There are lakes galore. All through the county, a river wends. For some it’s a haven, for others it’s a trap. Just ask the people.
We hear from the people in dense, short chapters, starting with Noreen.
Sara’s writing is dense and compact. You’ll have to breathe on your own time. Her sentences are mini stories. Her paragraphs are mini novels. Take a look at this paragraph (the opening) from Noreen’s section.
When the phone rings, Noreen Murphy is minding her Monday at Sullivan Sales. Zero foot traffic, spit of rain. She blows on a fresh coat of polish: Can’t Elope. Her nails look like candy corn. She ears the receiver. All men are honey.
Paige, Noreen’s daughter, enters the novel next. The first line of her section is, “The fuckers are coming.” In a lovely circle back, the almost-last lines of this section are, “Tommy is a fucker too, but he is her fucker. Bells jangle her heart as he plows through the door.”
I love the way Sara incorporates language into the novel. Noreen “uses the word ‘jiffy.'” Customers of Paige’s at the diner say “to boot.”
The third character we meet is Ira Lecher, sixty-six and “long past shame.”
Ira is a man of few tricks. Mornings go like this: wake, watch, coffee, shit. Shave whenever. Stay active, the marching order. Thirty push-ups. Tuna in a can. Sometimes he drives to the bookshop; he doesn’t think about it, really. Time passes regardless.
Whatever is put in front of him he can’t look away.
Ira owns property here in Sullivan County, where he rents the main house out for the summer, and for this summer, the summer of 2014, he rents to Beth, our fourth main character. Beth loves her lists.
Tweezers, Off!, sunscreen. Lists keep her grounded, a balloon on a string, tied to the task at hand. Lists stave off the dark beasts of thought that encircle and creep, sniffing out her susceptibility like scent. … At home she keeps lists on her nightstand, smeared on receipts, she pours items through her mental centrifuge, falling asleep to their tumble and whir.
Here’s a paragraph/mini-novel from Beth’s section.
Discomfort she can manage. She has Midol. She has the radio. Merciful quiet. She has her lists. One glimmering child, terrifically alive.
The last of the five main characters is Tzvi, who finds himself in Sulivan County for a summer gig. But more than that, his mother, we discover early on, drowned, years and years before, in Murmur Lake (aka Murder Lake), which is located on Ira’s property. This is Tzvi.
Three times a day he prays; that is, he moves his lips. Like the secular world with their lyrics to American Pie. The song comes on, and without thinking, you sing it.
As you can see, one of Sara’s skills is compression. Here’s an example from Paige’s section.
Once he [a neighbor] brought her a Big Wheel but she was already too big, so he brought her to the hayloft, her body sinking beneath his red-faced weight.
Or this one from Beth’s section.
One prom night and boom: her son’s damp head on the pillow, slick as a newly hatched bird.
In an essay at Lit Hub, Sara writes about how she started this novel,
When I first conceived of Lech, character came first. One grim NaNoWriMo, I scribbled in a set of legal pads, chasing one voice, then two. From there, It went like this: the fourth, the fifth, the minor falls, the major lifts—and, oh crud, I had a polyvocal novel. If that sounds ill-conceived, welcome to my creative brain.
Lech, in addition to being a word in and of itself, is, of course, short for the character Ira Lecher, and lech also comes from a Hebrew word that means “to go forth.” Here’s what Sara has to say about the title.
The word Lech was integral to helping me crystalize the imperative of the novel: how do we go forth with all the shit that we carry? How do we begin to liberate ourselves from various tethers—self-imposed, culturally, historically, socioeconomically, and so forth. That was very much the central question, hand in hand with its other definition—I wanted to explore the predatory nature of humanity. It was always the title in my heart.
Sara spent a lot of years (over ten, I think) writing this first novel.
Over years of writing and rewriting her novel, she crafted enough short stories to publish a collection. She taught other students to write a novel. She birthed and raised children. She ran half-marathons. She doubted herself over and over.
In 2022, in addition to Lech (published by Tortoise Books), Jerks was also published by Mason Jar Press. Not much time for writing new things.
I’ve spent the past couple years on edits, production, the constant sweat hustle and grind that comes with putting out two small press books (my novel and second story collection) in one year, and between that and teaching (and editing and kids and dogs and college visits and covid and life) the days go by. As Annie Dillard puts it: How we spend our days is how we spend our lives, right.
Sara is also the author of the story collection Doll Palace (re-released by 7.13 Books)—she considers herself primarily a story writer. Her fiction has been honored by the New York Foundation for the Arts, and her essays have appeared in The Millions, The Washington Post, Catapult, and Lit Hub. Along with Seth Rogoff, she is co-editing the anthology Smashing the Tablets: Radical Retellings of the Hebrew Bible for SUNY Press. She has been teaching creative writing for over 20 years, most recently with the teaching cooperative Writing Co-lab, of which she is a founding member. She grew up outside of Philadelphia, and now lives in Brooklyn with her husband, two teen-agers, and a dog.
Come back on DECEMBER 1st to read how SARA LIPPMANN spends her days.