I have been looking into schedules. Even when we read physics, we inquire of each least particle, What then shall I do this morning? How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time.
On the first of each month, a guest writer shares how he or she spends the day.
February 1, 2015: Dylan Landis
Dylan Landis’ first book, Normal People Don’t Live Like This, a collection of stories, was published in 2009. I read it in May of 2012, and ever since, in the hopes that I would make time to write about it, it’s been sitting in a growing pile behind me. I just finished Dylan’s debut novel, Rainey Royal, published last year.
Rainey Royal, in the reading room of the New York Public Library, peers at the photo in the book so closely she can smell the paper. Her shiny hair spills over the page. Saint Catherine is not just about temptation: she’s the patroness of artists, for Chrissake–just what Rainey needs. She thinks they could be sisters, five hundred years apart. Rainey is an artist, and she embodies temptation.
Yes, she does. We want to be her and not be her. “If you’re afraid of something, do it,” she says. And she will do anything. About Leah, a girl in her class whom she’s in the process of bullying:
She would be so easy to fix, Rainey thinks. Her hair French-braided, some coppery eye shadow to bring out her green eyes. Tighter jeans–Rainey could stitch them. She would teach Leah to dance. She and Tina could make it a project.
Rainey is her stunning self, all in all the time.
Piezoelectric body pickup, she loves saying that, the way it sounds half high-voltage and half slut.
The room gives Rainey an ache, the way everything tries so hard to be pretty.
Rainey loves patterns, she loves kaleidoscopes, she loves butterfly wings arranged in mandalas under glass, and she loves rose windows in cathedrals, all the intricate designs of nature and man that make a closed system.
Dylan writes strong, visual, and compressed sentences. In the third chapter/story, “Trust,” Rainey and her friend Tina are following a couple.
Rainey and Tina pick up their pace and fall back again, spooling out distance like kite string.
She writes sentences that involve the reader:
Rainey has gone from agnostic to atheist when it comes to believing in the unseen grandmother.
She knows how to smile and talk at the same time, and she does that now. “May I have another glass of milk?”
We first met Rainey in Normal People Don’t Live Like This as the narrator and heroine of “Jazz,” the first story in the collection. But after that first story, Leah is the star of the show, appearing in seven of the ten stories. Check out this paragraph from the second story in the collection, “Fire.”
In art Miss Giordino circled the worktables, pausing with occasional praise. When she got to Leah’s seat she tilted her head and said, “If you could loosen up a little, Leah, your people wouldn’t look so brittle, so still. Try sweeping curves like this.” She took the charcoal and made loose, breezy lines over the sketch. Leah could never permit that kind of ease. She would fall apart.
The title story, told from the point of view of Leah’s mother Helen, will rock you out of your chair. It’s full of judgment and voice. Describing the mother of one of Leah’s friends, Helen thinks how bare her eyes are.
Not even mascara, which would be so easy–really, there was no excuse.
Come back on FEBRUARY 1st to read how DYLAN LANDIS spends her days.