So I’ve got here a segment from Dianne Hardy’s memoir “For Crying Out Loud.”
In the clip (her’s starts at 4:30) Dianne reads the first few pages of her book. She starts with a flow of anecdotes melting into each other, and I mean gracefully; each one sinks into the next so you’re always immersed in a moment that joins with two others, and you don’t notice the transition.
And in the moments you get a flavor for a world. Dianne does such a beautiful job setting it up. Since it’s nonfiction, she must choose retroactively the best details from what really happened to give us the tang we need. Call it ambiance or atmosphere, zeitgeist or narrative voice, but if you read enough you’ll get it ingrained in your mind and spend the rest of your day in a world not-your-own. That’s awesome, and it’s not so easy to pull off. See some specific places where the feeling manifests:
While the bread was baking, I helped church the butter. Loaves came out of the oven and Grandma hacked of a big chunk for me. The hot bread melted the fresh butter, which swam on the top like liquid gold.
I’ve read this like sixteen times now and I think I might cry. So much ambiance. I can smell the bread and the butter and the nostalgia. I can feel it all warm on my fingers, hear the summer bugs outside, Dianne doesn’t even need to mention them because her story just carries them implicitly…
So here’s how I deal with all these feelings: I rewrite Dianne’s words and absorb them. I swallow Grandma puckering up her thigh for insulin. I devour the elementary school across the street. I masticate the sound of a western meadowlark. It’s all these beautiful little stories like liquid gold butter on bread…Until the GOOSEBERRY PIE BIT.
I don’t know where to begin about the gooseberry pie: the vulnerability of human relationships, how one person’s bad day can translate to loss and misery for everyone else, how someone can be so kind when they’re brave and so cruel when they’re afraid…or maybe I could just stand in shock and the loss of a perfectly scrumptious dessert. It makes me want to turn into a velociraptor. It makes me want to go outside snarling. It makes me want to rip up leaves in my raptor claws, giving passersby a wicked stare just in case they’ve ever thrown away good food.
Fortunately, Dianne was a clever enough kid to figure out that “there are parts of that pie that are still good.” And you hear the audience chuckle because first, eating garbage is funny, and second, because they are all vicariously so frustrated about the untimely death of pie that they are laughing in relief at its revival.
-Jessica, your friendly neighborhood Helicon Blogger
PS: Want to hear a Western Meadowlark? Follow this link!