Friday Best Bits

A passage from Ladder of Years, in the end, although I was tempted to offer part of Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder, which I started yesterday and which I am enjoying very much (while the voices in my head beg for me never to have to go to Brazil).

But, now, Anne Tyler, and a passage where Delia has left her family behind her and is alone with her thoughts in the boarding house where she’s rented a room.

Just a few scattered moments, she thought, have a way of summing up a person’s life. Just five or six tableaux that flip past again and again, like tarot cards constantly reshuffled and redealt. A patch of sunlight on a window seat where someone big was scrubbing Delia’s hands with a washcloth. A grade-school spelling bee where Eliza showed up unannounced and Delia saw her for an instant as a stranger. The gleam of Sam’s fair head against the molasses-dark wood of the rocker. Her father, propped on two pillows, struggling to speak. And Delia walking south alongside the Atlantic Ocean.

In this last picture, she wore her grey secretary dress. (Not all such memories are absolutely accurate.) She wore the black leather shoes she had bought at Bassett Bros. The clothes were wrong, but the look was right – the firmness, the decisiveness. That was the image that bolstered her.

The washcloth scrubbing her hands was as rough and warm as a mother cat’s tongue. The squat, unhappy-looking young woman approaching Miss Sutherland’s desk changed into Delia’s sister. “I wish….,” her father had whispered, and his cracked lips seemed to tear apart rather than separate, and he turned his face away from her. The evening after he died, she went to bed with a sleeping pill. She was so susceptible to drugs that she seldom took even an aspirin, but she gratefully swallowed the pill Sam gave her and slept through the night. Only it was more like burrowing through the night, tunnelling through with some blunt, inadequate instrument like a soup spoon, and she woke in the morning muddled and tired and convinced that she had missed something. Now she thought what she had missed was her own grief. Why that rush forward toward forgetfulness? she asked herself. Why the hurry to leap past grief to the next stage?

She wondered what her father had been wishing for. She hadn’t been able to figure it out at the time, and maybe he had assumed that she just didn’t car. Tears filled her eyes and rolled down her cheeks. She made no effort to stop them.

Didn’t it often happen, she thought, that aged parents die exactly at the moment when other people (your husband, your adolescent children) have stopped being thrilled to see you coming? But a parent is always thrilled, always dwells lovingly on your face as you are speaking. One of life’s many ironies.

She reached for her store of toilet paper and blew her nose. She felt that something was loosening inside her, and she hoped she would go on crying all night.


And one other thing you might be interested in: an online special edition of English Studies on Virginia Woolf, featuring six essays about her. I know there are a lot of Woolfie fans out there.


12 thoughts on “Friday Best Bits

  1. Thank you, I’m going to have a great weekend with these essays. I always hope some one will persuade me to love her novels as much as I do her non-fiction.

    • Have you ever tried The Years? I absolutely loved it when I read it, found it the easiest route into Woolf I’d ever tried. But I agree her non-fiction is something special. I do hope you enjoy the essays!

      • No, I haven’t. I tried reading them in order to fit in withnthe journals and letters, but go stuck after ‘Mrs Dalloway’. I’ll put it on the TBR pile.

  2. I’ve always been curious about this book as I’ve often thought (well in the recent past had thought) how nice it might be to walk out of your life and into a brand new one. That might not actually be as good as it sounds, but it’s an interesting idea. I have not yet read Anne Tyler–she’s on that famous list of mine–so maybe I’ll get to her this year. I hope you’ll write more about this when you finish.

    • Oh Danielle, you must read Anne Tyler! I feel sure you’d really like her. And Ladder of Years is fantastic – I think we may all have felt that urge at some point just to walk away and never look back! All the better to be able to read about it in a perfectly imagined book rather than have to go to the bother of actually doing it. 🙂

  3. I’ve just put this book by Anne Tyler on my list “to read”. That’s a wonderful quotation. I know I’ll enjoy the book. Have you read Doris Lessing’s The Summer Before the Dark? I think there are similarities in theme–a middle-age woman leaves her family. It had a big impact on me. Hilariously (at least I think so) I left my copy of the Lessing novel in Germany at the place my parents were staying because I needed to lighten my luggage. My father read the book and later asked me if there was some special message I had intended for him by getting him to read it!!! Thanks for sharing lovely words. 🙂

    • Beth, so lovely to have you visit! I think you would enjoy this because the language is so wonderful. The sentences are so full and perfect. I loved your story about the Doris Lessing novel, which is not one I’ve read (although I like Lessing a lot). I will definitely look out for it now!

  4. I just had a thought which combines Anne Tylers’ book and Virginia Woolf. It actually reminds me of one part of Cunninghams The hours in which a housewife snekas off regularly to read Mrs Dalloway ina motel room. It’s a time out from her life, a rather harmles sort of double life. I could relate to it.

    • Caroline, that’s such a good link-up! I still have The Hours to read – I’ve been wanting to for ages, but somehow it hasn’t happened. You remind me to get to it sooner rather than later.

  5. What a lovely passage. My best friend’s father just died this last Christmas Eve, his favorite holiday of the year, and she and her family are all having difficulty coping with the grief. I spent a lot of time visiting with her when I was in California and it made my heart ache. The passage really does capture something deep about losing a parent.

    On a brighter note, thanks for the link to the Woolf articles!

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