The ADVENTURES of JOHN CARSON in SEVERAL QUARTERS of the WORLD by Brian Doyle

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This book is many things, but mostly it is a celebration of storytelling. It is Brian Doyle’s imagining of the tale Robert Louis Stevenson might have written about a brief period he spent in San Francisco while waiting for his beloved Fanny. Rooming at the house of John and Mary Carson he tells a warm hearted and spirited adventure of their lives – both together and apart – and pesents a loving paean to the city. Appropriating the voice of Stevenson, whom Doyle admires as a writer and a man, is brilliant, as both men are storytellers to their bones. This is a tale of love and adventure around the globe; of a city alive with sounds and smells and voices and light.

I must make a confession here. Brian Doyle is one of my favorite writers. Some take him to task for his affection for adjectives and his disdain for the comma, but I find that he writes like life feels. Only more so. He has a knack for peeling back artifice and opening the heart. I have not read a book of his where I didn’t find myself giggling or weeping, often at the same time; where I haven’t sighed with recognition or had to set the book down to catch my breath. This book was published less than two months before Brian died of brain cancer in May of 2017, words still difficult for me to write, and one reason it took me so long to read. For months, each time I started it, I had to stop for the tears. I am so glad that I finally read it as it brought much pleasure. Here is a taste –

“Again we pause to smell the wonderful symphony or cacophony of scents : the irresistible hint of ocean and sea-wrack and tide flat, the sharp pungency of pine and cypress and madrone, the tendrils of scent trailing after railroads and meat-packing and sugar-refining, even, perhaps, very faintly, an iota of cigar smoke from the cheroots that every man and boy in San Francisco appears to burn from dawn to dusk. If we are fanciful we can say that we apprehend hints of opium and lust…”

And one more –

“There is much else to tell, and little time to tell it, and the words I have are thin for what I wish to say. He was kind; he worked hard and well and without a word; he was gentle; he was fair and honest; he treated each being in just the same way; with a grave attentiveness that spilled easily into laughter if it could. Even then, not much more than a boy himself, you could see the man being formed, and knew the man to be your good and true friend, as long as life…”

So, before I go to quoting half the book I will just say, read Brian Doyle if you get a chance. And be ready for your heart to expand. Having read most of his books – novels, essays, non fiction, proems – I am ready to recommend others if you like. For me, he is a writer once encountered, never forgotten.

 

7 comments on “The ADVENTURES of JOHN CARSON in SEVERAL QUARTERS of the WORLD by Brian Doyle”

  1. Lovely report, JNaz. Your connection to Doyle comes through clearly. Love this device: “If we are fanciful we can say…” I can imagine him saying, “Don’t accuse me of being fanciful. I said IF.”

    Which of his books do recommend for one’s first introduction to him?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. A book called Grace Notes would be a lovely place to start. It is a series of brief essays, likely to break your heart. Here is a taste, from an essay called [SILENCE] –

      “I rise earlier and earlier in these years. I don’t know why. Age, sadness, a willingness to epiphany. Something is opening in me, some new eye. I talk less and listen more. Stories wash over me all day like tides. I walk through the bright wet streets and every moment a story comes to me, people hold them out to me like sweet children, and I hold them squirming and holy in my arms, and they enter my heart for a while, and season and salt and sweeten that old halting engine, and teach me humility and mercy, the only lessons that matter, the lessons of the language I most wish to learn, a tongue best spoken without a word, without a sound, with your hands clasped in prayer and your heart as naked as a baby.”

      His first novel is Mink River, and still my fave. I read it first for the story, read it again for the music of the language.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Well, this taste is delicious. What a simile those squirming sweet children are. And then it’s closed out with “your heart as naked as a baby.”

        There is one copy of Mink River in the entire Dallas Public Library system. I have requested it. Grace Notes will be a purchase. Thanks, JNaz.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Barbara. Brian was special. I wrote him several times and he always wrote back. Was fortunate to attend a reading twice, lots of tears and laughter, not for the faint of heart.

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  2. Beautiful review. I love discovering a writer that I can connect with and feel at home with. Thinking about “his affection for adjectives and his disdain for the comma” reminds me a little of Walt Whitman or Jack Kerouac…. There is a rhythm to the flow of this type of writing- and I sometimes find it brings me into a contemplative state that is a little different from the mindset of short and pointed writing… I have not read any of Doyle’s books, but thanks to your review, I will keep my eyes open for his work.. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

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