I spent quite a few hours reading in those colorful Adirondack chairs last Friday, although I was very far away from the Adirondacks, having landed in Myrtle Beach, S.C. well before members of my New York City family arrived on their (much shorter!) flight from La Guardia. We were all rendezvousing for a long weekend in Ocean Beach Isle wandering up and down the deserted beach, but also watching my nephew compete with his college team in an ultimate frisbee tournament. On my two flights, Rochester to Atlanta, and then Atlanta to Myrtle Beach, and during those hours I waited, I finished Paul Listicky’s The Narrow Door. And then I started reading it again because I didn’t want the book to end.
The Narrow Door is a lyrical, sad memoir that delves into the death of Listicky’s close friend, Denise Gess, and the end of his seventeen-year relationship with the poet Mark Doty. And yet Listicky writes about so much more–early in the book, there is an amazing passage about a trip Listicky takes to Culver City’s Museum of Jurassic Technology where he sees a portrait of Laika, the Soviet dog, the first dog in space. He imagines the dog’s last day on Earth before being sealed into a tiny space on top of the rocket, waiting for certain death, as if there could have been an alternate outcome: “Let’s just say that Laika’s last day was her best day. Say that she wasn’t to be swabbed with alcohol and fixed with wires. Say she wasn’t so subjected to tests of sound and heat and what it felt like to be weightless for hours on end. Instead, we will say she is thinking of her time at Dr. Lavel’s house. Dr. Lavel, who gave her a cedar bed, and let her sleep at the foot of his own wide bed. Who cooked chicken especially for her, seasoned with marjoram, thyme, and rosemary. The smells of that house so familiar that she’s almost forgotten she’d ever been a street dog, sidling up beside street people to keep warm.” It is as if Listicky is trying to rewrite the narrative of certain death, even with the knowledge of the inevitability of what will happen: Laika is domed, Denise will die, and love will end. The narrow door is the one you have to pass through alone, unsure of what will be on the other side. List icky also uses time in such an evocative way, with jumps from the 1980’s to 2010 and back again, often within a single chapter, in a completely non-linear manner. This is an excellent book, written in luminous prose, sad, but moving.
There is excellent wifi in the Myrtle Beach airport. I found this out checking my email where I came across a link to this strangely compelling short story, “All We Did,” by Elise Levine in the journal, Redux. This story is elusive, lyric, compressed, almost as if it is a prose poem in which a narrative has been embedded. Here’s an idea of the kind of elliptical, poetic language Levine uses: “Still we do what we can, we keep the faith, and every spring irises return, dwarf reticulate among the vestigial snow. We keep it coming, remember her in summer, a white dress shawled with rain, a celluloid flicker. Amaranth, belladonna. We dream a place she left, notwithstanding.”
And then I started Rebecca Solnit’s The Mother of All Questions. I’ll post about this next week. I’m about a third of the way through, in the middle of the chapter called “A Short History of Silence.” I also had time to read through some of the journals and magazines I subscribe to (but often don’t get to), and in April’s The Atlantic, which I had brought along mostly to cushion my laptop, I read a very thought-provoking article about applying metrics to therapy, “What Your Therapist Doesn’t Know.” About then, my sister, my stepmother and her partner showed up, and I finally got to leave the airport as we headed out for the hour-long drive to the house we had rented for the weekend, a house directly on the beach, and the rest of my mini-vacation began.
It all went by much too quickly. We had lovely lunches overlooking the ocean, early morning runs on the beach, seafood dinners with homemade ice cream for dessert, and an entire day watching the High Tide ultimate frisbee tournament in North Myrtle Beach, “home of Vanna White“–all that energy and spinning centrifugal force! On the flight back, I had to catch up on reading and commenting on three short stories by people in my writing group–I had twenty minutes at home, time enough to deposit my suitcase in the middle of the kitchen while I grabbed some dinner before having to head out to our 7 pm biweekly meeting. Luckily, I was still relaxed from my weekend in the sun, so the fatigue that was just about to emerge from traveling back to Rochester’s deep freeze kept away long enough for me to sound half-way coherent.
As for page count, I’ll own up to 218 for The Narrow Door, 68 for what I’ve read of The Mother of All Questions, five for “What Your Therapist Doesn’t Know, and five more for “All We Did” for a total of 296. I’m not sure where I am in the overall page count, but I’d guess I’m somewhere in the ballpark now. What I’d really like to do put everything back on hold here in the winter- NOT-a-wonderland-of-Upstate- New- York and fly right back to those Adirondack chairs in the Myrtle Beach airport And read forever.