It's been an odd summer, and not just weatherwise. My reading has been as sporadic as appearances of the sun. I started with one goal. To finish Richard Ford's 'The Lay of the Land,' a novel I'd started last summer, read half and let it sit on my bedside table all year. I haven't succeeded yet. Ford's novel is a curious reading experience. It's over 500 pages long but reads like 1000. After leaving it to stew for about nine months, I had no trouble picking it up again and remembering exactly where I had left off. It's a rare book, more monument than novel; a character study so detailed, inseparable from a landscape and zeitgeist so richly imagined and uncannily authentic, it seems to transcend the normal boundaries of time and narrative. That having been said, it's also not an easy read and is completely uninterested in plot. It's about loss and a 'Permanent Period,' a stage of life reached in which regrets are few and mortality comes knocking. It's tough going, but so rich and rewarding, with a voice that's so pitch perfect and fully-formed, it's like getting to know an old friend intimately again. In short, it's a novel that demands finishing. I suppose I'll have more to say once that's done.
Instead, of working on Ford, I spent most of the summer getting distracted. I'm almost done with Rawi Hage's latest 'Cockroach' (stay tuned for a review coming soon) but in the interim I picked up a book of short stories by Bruce Jay Friedman called 'Black Angel' that I can't put down. This little gem cost me fifty cents from the charity table at Hanniford's grocery store in the strip mall beside the highway in Saint Albans, Vermont. I've had some luck with that table in the past. Picked up a copy of Elyse Friedman's extremely enjoyable debut novel 'Then Again' last summer from that table. (There appears to be some connection between being an author named Friedman and turning up on the charity table at the Saint Albans Hanniford's). I was curious about Bruce Jay after reading a whatever-happened-to piece about him on Nextbook.com. Apparently he's still writing, though his name has been established less from literary fiction than screenplays. For a while there he was on the fast track to literary stardom, published in the New Yorker, a critically lauded novel called 'Stern'. Now he's perhaps best known as the guy who wrote the screenplay to the movies Splash and The Heartbreak Kid.