Thursday, April 25, 2013

In which I lament a cold Spring and tell you about a new book

This is not my garden; it is a picture of a beautiful border at the Chelsea Flower Show last year, but I'm posting it because my actual garden is too, too depressing to be photographed. The weather doesn't bear writing about; at planet A Puppet Opera, the thermometer has barely broken the 50 degree mark, and it's still too cold overnight to think about planting seeds. If I could plant seeds, I would like to make the area around my apple tree look like this picture. How about those peach irises? Aren't they something else? And that little pergola area would look stunning on my otherwise stark and depressing "patio." If only I had the carpentry skills to construct such a pergola, if only the weather would warm up and allow me to put in tender annuals. Ahh, I dream, I dream. 

In the meantime, I've had a chance to catch up on a bit of reading. I ordered Tony Earley's Somehow Form A Family because I liked the sound of the author's voice reading a William Maxwell story on the New Yorker fiction podcast. Yes, I know it sounds a little crazy maybe to buy a book on the strength of someone's reading voice, but he was also very charming and insightful in the interview, and I wanted to read some of his own work. 
Somehow Form a Family falls into the realm of what I would call "creative nonfiction." It is a memoir, but crafted in a very artful way: a series of linked stories painted with a delicate brush, rather than a straightforward, photorealistic autobiography. The writer grew up in North Carolina, and Mayberry, and Green Acres and any of a dozen places the window of the TV screen overlooked, and his stories of growing up are heavily influenced by the media culture of the sixties and seventies.  He is a thoughtful and perhaps sentimental chronicler of his family story, forgiving to memories and gentle with the subjects, often setting a story in the frame of a physical object such as a garden or an airplane cabin, to give structure to his recollection. For example, one history of the family is told through the events that take place in the hallway of his grandparents' house. He retells a family legend about a goose chase taken by his grandmother, one that surely must have been told and retold over the dinner table, but he recounts it with such tenderness that surely, you feel for the lady, and wish you too had been along for the ride. Guns play a role, and dogs, and cars, a Boys' Own account of growing up in the South. The tales in the collection are all told with the same generosity of spirit, with a kindness of heart that matches the voice on the radio. It is a lovely book for a spring afternoon, while you are sitting outside waiting for the flowers to grow. 

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