out stealing horses


“We weren’t really stealing them…But we call it stealing to make it more exciting.”

Per Petterson is a writer who can stand inside a moment, turn in a circle and look up and down until there is no inch of that moment left unexplored.  Mary Gordon calls this “saturating the moment.” Read this:

“…and then he fell on his knees like an empty sack and beat his forehead on the ground, and stayed there huddled up for what seemed like an eternity, and for the whole of that eternity I held my breath without stirring. I didn’t understand what had happened, but I felt it was my fault. I just didn’t know why. At last he stood up stiffly….”

Or this one:

“‘Which farm was that?’ I ask, although there can be only one farm in question. But I was not quite with him in my thoughts, and I wonder whether that is how we get to be after living alone for a long time, that in the middle of a train of thought we start talking out loud, that the difference between talking and not talking is slowly wiped out, that the unending, inner conversation we carry on with ourselves merges with the one we have with the few people we still see, and when you live alone for too long the line which divides the one from the other becomes vague, and you do not notice when you cross that line. Is this how my future looks?

“‘The farm at home. In the village, of course.'”

In Out Stealing Horses, Trond is an old man. During the course of an evening, something happens to cause him to remember an incident that occurred when he was a boy. As the reader continues, occasionally we come upon a sentence such as,”Or that is the way I remember it.” As we continue further into the story, through the climax, we come upon, “My father could not have told me all this, not with all the details; but that is the way it is printed in my memory…” These kinds of sentences lend credibility to the story. They remind me of The Gathering by Irish writer, Anne Enright.

Petterson uses an omniscient narrator who can drop into a character so seamlessly, it’s difficult to even notice. “We heard the rain battering the roof and it rained on the river and on Jon’s boat and on the road to the shop and on Barkald’s meadows, it rained on the forest and …., but inside the cottage it was warm and dry. The stove was crackling, and I ate until my plate….”

And yet there are some things this big narrator doesn’t know: “What they talked about I have never been able to imagine.”

Petterson needs a certain coincidence to occur. So he takes it and owns it, making it a condition of the novel:

“…if this had been something in a novel it would just have been irritating…that kind of coincidence seems far-fetched in fiction, in modern novels anyway, and I find it hard to accept. It may be all very well in Dickens, but when you read Dickens you’re reading a long ballad from a vanished world, where everything has to come together in the end like an equation, where the balance of what was once disturbed must be restored so that the gods can smile again.”

Per Petterson is a Norwegian writer. Out Stealing Horses was translated by Anne Born.

Fitzgerald finale, part 2

img_1910The Russian Doll Aspect of Life:

I am the same person who liked to play with Troll Dolls in third grade, tried out for cheer leading in ninth, worked as a waitress in college, lived in France, and practiced law. All of these “me’s” are difficult for the “me now’ to believe–some more so than others.

“Somewhere inside me there’ll always be the person I am to-night.”

Catching Days:

Life is hard to get hold of. We have to break it down to make it manageable. We have to try to catch moments. Yet, there is the big picture. “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

“Dick tried to dissect it into pieces small enough to store away–realizing that the totality of a life my be different in quality from its segments.”


Sometimes it seems as if the clock is not moving at all, and other times, how can it be Monday again already. Is it a function of what we are doing or what we are looking forward to? I’m a person who always needs to see the days on a calendar, who is always printing out different calendars–one week, two weeks, a month, six weeks–trying to keep track of life. What does it say about a character, his or her view of time?

“He stayed in the big room a long time listening to the buzz of the electric clock, listening to time.”img_19001

“For him time stood still and then every few years accelerated in a rush, like the quick re-wind of a film, but for Nicole the years slipped away by clock and calendar and birthday…”

“Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

Fitzgerald finale, part 1

img_19222Perhaps one of the reasons I’ve been so taken with Tender is the Night is that the things Fitzgerald writes about are also the things I’m interested in.  In this two-part post (a finale in the sense that I’ll be moving on to another book after part 2 of the finale, but, as they say, we’ll always have Paris), I’d like to touch on a few of those themes that I have not already mentioned.

Because they all go together:

One of the reasons I love row houses is because they all go together. For myself, I love things that match, and I like to keep all those things together. I have trouble using the shampoo, conditioner, lotion, bath gel, and soap I get from a hotel. They all match. I want to keep them together.

“Rosemary watched Nicole pressing upon her mother a yellow evening bag she had admired, saying ‘I think things ought to belong to the people that like them.’–and then sweeping into it all the yellow articles she could find, a pencil, a lipstick, a little note book, ‘because they all go together.”

Opposite of Accumulation:

I don’t like clutter–in rooms or clothes. Another reason I love row houses is because of how small and manageable they are. Less room; less space in which to accumulate. And oh for that little-girl feeling of a summer dress and just panties and twirling…

“She liked the bareness of the room…”

“…she liked the economy of the weightless dress and espadrilles…”

More tomorrow….

a pattern of constant revising

Apparently on a little F. Scott Fitzgerald kick…

The first novel he submitted to Charles Scribner’s Sons was rejected.

Erika Willett writes, “Beginning a pattern of constant revising that would characterize his writing style for the rest of his career, Fitzgerald decided to rewrite The Romantic Egoist and resubmit it for publication.”img_1926

It was rejected again.  He revised it again.  It was accepted. He was 23.

This Side of Paradise would be published a year later.

In a journal kept by a woman staying at the Grove Park Inn, in Asheville, NC, where Fitzgerald was also staying, his notes to her on his method of revision can be found.   (More about this in “A Summer with F. Scott Fitzgerald” in the December 1964 issue of Esquire). He said,

“Three revisions are absolutely necessary.

First, the first draft, the inspirational points.

Second, the cold going over.

Third, putting both in their proper balance.”

I can certainly relate to a pattern of constant revising. Who doesn’t revise? Isn’t that how we all write? I mean, we write and then we revise.  We write and then we revise.  A pattern of constant revising.  Is this a bad thing?  Does it make the writing too tight?  Too controlled?

Contrast with this pattern the writing in blog posts–not so much revising.

in a lyrical way

img_190375 years ago this month, Tender is the Night was published.  In a friend’s copy of the book, Fitzgerald inscribed the following:

“If you liked The Great Gatsby, for God’s sake read this. Gatsby was a tour de force but this is a confession of faith.”

Apparently Fitzgerald was practical as well.  In a letter to Max Perkins, he wrote, “Don’t forget my suggestion that the jacket flap should carry an implication that though the book starts in a lyrical way, heavy drama will presently develop.”

And it’s true, the book does start in a lyrical way.  The first sentence:

“On the pleasant shore of the French Riviera, about half way between Marseilles and the Italian border, stands a large, proud, rose-colored hotel.”

Although it’s true that heavy drama–or at least drama–does follow, the novel is lyrical throughout.

“The water reached up for her, pulled her down tenderly out of the heat, seeped in her hair and ran into the corners of her body. She turned round and round in it, embracing it, wallowing in it.”

“…he kissed her and was chilled by the innocence of her kiss, by the glance that at the moment of contact looked beyond him out into the darkness of the night, the darkness of the world. She did not know yet that splendor is something in the heart; at the moment when she realized that and melted into the passion of the universe he could take her without question or regret.”

Here’s a great example of how to stay in the body of a character (after Dick learns of the death of his father): “He felt a sharp wince at the shock, a gathering of the forces of resistance; then it rolled up through his loins and stomach and throat.”

Finally, the best definition of love I have ever come across:  “a wild submergence of soul, a dipping of all colors into an obscuring dye.”

Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald died at 44 of a heart attack.

four wardrobe trunks

I have no trouble packing in a carry-on for a weekend trip, even a 3-day weekend. But until a few weeks ago, I’d never packed in a carry-on for a week-long trip. My husband suggested I try it. Well, I knew it could be done. I’d seen other people do it. I just didn’t think I could. But I can.

img_19011When Nicole Diver traveled in Tender is the Night, she took with her:  4 wardrobe trunks, a shoe trunk, 3 hat trunks, and 2 hat boxes, a chest of servants’ trunks, a portable filing-cabinet, a medicine chest, a spirit lamp container, a picnic set, 4 tennis rackets in presses and cases, a phonograph, a typewriter, and 24 supplementary grips, satchels, and packages.

It’s freeing to be mobile. Travelling becomes much easier. Less to pack; less to unpack; less to pack up. If you haven’t tried it, I recommend it. One of each thing. Lots of black. And something that you love to wear–for me, long scarves.

“…each one numbered, down to the tag on the cane case. Thus all of it could be checked up in two minutes on any station platform, some for storage, some for accompaniment from the ‘light trip list’ or the ‘heavy trip list,’ constantly revised, and carried on metal-edged plaques in Nicole’s purse. She had devised the system as a child when travelling with her failing mother.”

img_19072Be sure to ship any purchases home. Books fit well in boxes….

from point reyes

img_18261It’s writing group week at Point Reyes, California–nine of us here (several in absentia) with Pam Houston.  We arrived Thursday night at the Old Point Reyes Schoolhouse Compound for a dinner of fish stew.

We come from all over the country–from Columbus, Georgia to Bend, Oregon.   In the mornings we critique manuscripts; in the afternoons, walks on the beach. This morning we did a phone conference connecting with New Orleans, Louisiana.


Saturday night we took Highway One into the city to the Make-Out Room.  Pam was giving a reading, along with several other people.  It was an amazing drive, winding around the cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean withviews of San Francisco in the distance. Sorry to say, I got a little carsick.


Yesterday we walked into town to the independent bookstore, Point Reyes Books. I bought a copy of Yiyun Li‘s  (pronounced E-yoon) new novel, The Vagrants, recently reviewed on the cover of the New York Times Sunday Book Review section. She was driving up from Oakland to eat dinner with us.  We sat around the kitchen table, eating lamb, curried cauliflower, and spinach.  And talking about American children today and how we write and where characters come from.img_1805

Shortly we’ll be eating hamburgers and drinking milkshakes at the Station House Cafe.  Then it’s to the Lighthouse

from sausalito

img_1778Last night around 10:15, I was driving into San Francisco and fireworks were going off across the bay.  I got a little lost, but my gps saved me.  Around eleven pm, I was crossing the Golden Gate Bridge.  Amazing.

Today, a gray day in Simg_1781ausalito, I found a small, independent bookstore, Habitat, and bought, at the owner’s recommendation, one book I’d heard of, Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson, and one I hadn’t, The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery.


I met a wine blogger from Real Napa, a vineyard owned and operated exclusively by women, and ordered a case of wine.

At her recommendation, I headed to Fish, a 30-minute walk from town on a tucked-away pier.  Definitely worth the detour.


Also found this really cool door,



really cool


from seaside

img_1776 It’s a blustery day in Seaside, Florida, a town many of you may know from the movie The Truman Show.  I was taking a quick break from Tender is the Night for a fun beach read, The Sunday Wife by Cassandra King, which takes place in Seaside and the surrounding area.  I love that–reading a novel that takes place where I’m physically located.  I was actually on the deck at Bud & Alley’s when I read “we went for an early supper on the outdoor deck of Bud & Alley’s.”

I went in Sundog Booksimg_1759, the wonderful independent bookstore located in Seaside.  Picked up book after book.  Then my eyes fell on a copy of Tender is the Night.  I’ve been reading the book on my new Kindle.  And not liking it very much.  Not picking it up very often.  Normally I take my book up to bed with me, but there’s something not-very-cozy about heading to bed with my Kindle.

Anyway, I suspected that it was not the words of F. Scott Fitzgerald that were the problem, but the very cool electronic gadget that I was reading them on.  Standing in Sundog Books, I opened the copy of Tender is the Night and began reading.  I was mesmerized.  And disappointed.  How could it make that much difference?  And I love gadgets.  And the Kindle is so cool.  You can download a book in a few seconds.  You can search through the pages of the book.  You can take an entire library with you when you travel.  But it’s not the same, I’m so sad to have to admit.

So I bought that copy and went across the street for a great lunch–a lobster roll and F. Scott Fitzgerald.  It doesn’t get any better than this.

note the wonderful bookmark

the first days of April


wisteria in Columbus, Georgia

“The first days of April were windy and warm.  White clouds trailed across the blue sky.  In the wind there was the smell of the river and also the fresher smell of fields beyond the town.”

from The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

Carson McCullers was born Lula Carson Smith in 1917 in Columbus, Georgia.  Her first novel, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, was published in 1940, when she was just 23 years old.

I first read this novel in high school and didn’t particularly like it.  I’ve read it three times since then, amazed at the genius of the character of the deaf mute, the many threads of the theme of loneliness, and the depth of the writing.  Amazed that it was a first novel.  Amazed that it could have been written by a 23-year-old.

McCullers’ childhood home is located about fifteen minutes from where I live.  We’ve had a lot of rain in these early days of April 2009, sixty-nine years after she wrote these words:  “The sound of the rain was like the swelling sound of the sea.”