A few years ago I realized that 80% of the books I’d picked up that year were written by men. There is no question that male authors are taken more seriously than are female authors, and my opinion and analysis of that has been in draft form for months now. In the meantime, I will just tell you that since my Pulitzer challenge is almost at completion, I’ve decided to read each novel that’s won the Orange Prize. The prize only began in 1996, so the challenge isn’t terribly daunting, but I look forward to reading the Orange winners for years to come.
The first Orange prize winner I read was Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels. I don’t want to get too much into the plot, because it’s kind of meandering, and it’s essentially not really that important to the book. It does deal with the effect of World War II on various men, and *spoiler alert* the war isn’t particularly awesome for any of them. The real draw to this book though is the writing – or perhaps it’s a drawback; I’m really not sure.
I’ve never written anything quite like this. You could pick almost any sentence out of this book and it would just drip all over you with really breathtaking language and profundity. While theoretically that should be a fantastic thing, it was almost a distraction. I was constantly pulled out of the story to re-read lines over and over, because they were so g.d. lyrical. I was not surprised to discover that the author is also a poet.
I don’t know if I’d recommend this to someone. It certainly deserved to win all kinds of prizes, and perhaps if I’d read a few pages a day it would have sunk in more. I’m sure these quotes lose their impact when taken out of context, but I’ll post them anyway.
“I’m naive enough to think that love is always good, no matter how long ago, no matter the circumstances. I’m not old enough yet to image the instances where this isn’t true and where regret outweighs everything.”
About the victims of the Holocaust: “That they were torn from mistakes they had no chance to fix; everything unfinished. All the sins of love without detail, detail without love. The regret of having spoken, of having run out of time to speak. Of hoarding oneself. Of turning one’s back too often in favour of sleep. I tried to imagine their physical needs, the indignity of human needs grown so extreme they equal your longing for wife, child, sister, parent, friend. But truthfully I couldn’t even begin to imagine the trauma of their hearts, of being taken in the middle of their lives. Those with young children. Or those newly in love, wrenched from that state of grace. Or those who had lived invisibly, who were never know.”
“She’s young. There are twenty-five years between us. Looking at her I feel such pure regret, such clean sadness, it’s almost like joy. She’s many years late. How happy I am to see her.”
“Not long after our final lesson, on one of our Sundays at the lake, my father and I were walking along the shore when he noticed a small rock shaped like a bird. When he picked it up, I saw the quick gleam of satisfaction in his face and felt in an instant that I had less power to please him than a stone.”