notes

Book lines: Susan Minot

In book group, lines worth underlining, reading on January 11, 2012 at 9:38 am

Lines from Evening, by Susan Minot 

I encountered this novel via my book club, and it has stayed with me more than most novels I’ve read in the past decade.  I was drawn in by the way that the book interspersed Ann Lord’s hazy deathbed reflections and hallucinations with scenes from one life-changing weekend (during which she fell deeply in love with an unavailable man) and the marriages and heartaches that followed.

After my best friend died at only 43 after a miserable disease made life not worth living, the passages in which Ann is looking back on her life took on new layers of meaning for me.

 
“She looked across the room to all the things which had come to her over the years and by now ought to give her some satisfaction. The inkwell nestled in a bronze bird’s nest, the primitive oil of a church she’d found in that junk shop, the French enamel saucers with the fly pattern … they would last and not she. Is this what she would leave behind? The things in the house were not herself. The children would be left and they had come from her but they were not herself either. Nothing was herself but what had happened to her and the only place that was registered was inside. And even that was kind of a vapor.”

***

“All her life she’d listened to talk, life was full of talk. People said things, true and interesting things and ridiculous things. Her father used to say they talked too much. There was much to say, she had said her share. How else was one to know a thing except by naming it? But words now fell so far from where life was. Words fell on a distant shore. It turned out there were other tracks on which life registered where things weren’t acknowledged with words or given attention to or commented on.”

***

“She was pulling a rope out of the water and knew it was coming to the end when the barnacles started to appear and they became more think and clustered. Then it was strangely peaceful and the sound was turned off. She stood at the bow of a ship. If only she could have stood this way above the water and really breathed and let the waves go by like pages being turned and watched everything more closely and chosen things more carefully then she might have been able to read the spirit within herself and would not have spent her life as if she were only halfway in it.

“For a moment she felt an astonishing brilliance and heat and light and all of herself flared up and the vibration after sixty-five years was not weakened by time but more dense then suddenly it was as if the flame had caught the flimsiest piece of paper for it flickered up and flew into the air then quickly sank down withered into a thin cinder of ash which blew off, inconsequential. Her life had not been long enough for her to know the whole of herself, it had not been long enough or wide.”

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