I second that emotion

In a stack of books I wanted to write about, I found Elizabeth Strout’s Amy & Isabelle that I reread in November of 2010–almost a year ago. (I really should clean out my study more often–yes, I’m still going–down to one laundry basket.)

I had marked four passages with red flags and two with sticky notes (that had nothing written on them). I can’t remember if the different way I marked the passages meant something. In any event, two of the red flags marked ways that Strout expressed an emotion in a character through action and without naming the emotion:

In the girls’ room she wrote an obscenity on the wall. She had never written anything on a wall before, and as the pen made gritty, wobbly lines, she felt an affinity for whoever it was that had vandalized the gym the year before, as though she were capable of breaking windows now herself, this one right here in the bathroom with wet snow sticking to its pane. (31)

And the second:

“Amy?” she called, unlocking the door. “Amy?” Where are you? She dropped her keys on the kitchen table and the sound was brief, immense.

She switched on the light. “Amy?”

Into the living room; switching on the light there. “Amy?”

She went from room to room, light switch to light switch, up the stairs. “Amy?” (76)

In this second example, there’s one more paragraph, and then Strout writes, “And now she felt hysterical.” Only after the reader experiences the mounting tension of fear does Strout add another layer, naming the way fear was making her character feel.

So much to learn from this book. So much to enjoy in reading it.

it was a good autumn

I dropped the last packet of the six-month semester into the FedEx box yesterday afternoon. After I fill out some end-of-the-semester forms, I will have completed the first year of my two-year program at the Vermont College of Fine Arts.

To celebrate I went to run in the rain–a new personal best: two miles. Twelve weeks ago, I started running again–starting at one mile and g r a d u a l l y working up to two miles.

The first week in October I started wearing contacts. I’ve gone from taking an hour to get them in to just a couple of minutes.

It was the air, really–the clear brightness of the air that in the evenings now held the first chilliness of autumn, and brought with it that subtle undercurrent of old longings and new chances which autumn often brings.

from Amy and Isabelle by Elizabeth Strout


Her father turned around.  ‘Pancakes?’ he asked her. 

Winnie didn’t want pancakes.  ‘Sure,’ she said.”


You will find these simple sentences, which take you to the heart of Winnie, at the end of the story “Ship in a Bottle,” which, with twelve other linked stories creates the book, Olive Kitteridge, new this year by Elizabeth Strout.   

I read Olive Kitteridge because it was chosen by my writing group.  We read a book a month to discuss together.  I had loved Amy and Isabelle, but Abide with Me, not as much.  Olive Kitteridge is beautifully written.  The second story, “Incoming Tide,” will make you pause–in an attempt to hold onto the moment.  OK takes off from there.