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Filtering by Tag: George Saunders

Feel the Pull of Darkness

Aaron Guest

Guest dakness I volunteered to drive the night shift during a cross-country road trip last year. That meant the long drive through South Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana. Maybe my enthusiasm to take the short straw was the prospect of what singer/songwriter/writer Josh Ritter calls being pulled by the American darkness/the mountains, the rivers, the fields at harvest. Or maybe it was the goal of meeting the sunrise in Missoula. (I had long ago been lured in by A River Runs Through It.) I didnt want to come to such joy by sleeping until the morning.

A writing mentor told me once, You really like to write about losers.I do. I like stories whose characters experience the weight of evil and suffering dragging them down far short of redemption. I like stories and books and movies where eviland Im simplifying herewins.

In a recent conversation in Granta, Ben Marcus and George Saunders discuss darkliterature. Both writers make no apologies about being pulled to stories that, in quoting Joy Williams, deal with the horror and incomprehensibility of time.Stories not fleeing from fear or hopelessness or sadness. Characters whose experiences do not bloom into rainbows and sunrises at the end. Marcus sums it up best, Relishing this kind of writing does not mean we do not love life. It means we love life enough to want to be present to its difficulty and complexity. We experience pleasure when we feel that someone has arrived at something essential.

Growing up with faith I have been assured I am part of a great cloud of witnesses. But too often this cloudis paraded around as a heavenly choir singing only of glad tidings of great joys. Faith, like literature, if it is to arrive at something essential,needs to be honest with darkness, allow space for doubt, and ponder questions with answers that leave us far short of redemption. As Madeleine LEngle says, pretending there is no darkness is another way to extinguish the light.

It was nearly 2 a.m. when I crossed the Montana border in March 2014. Rolling hills were covered in frost and sparkling in the starlight. Just passed the state sign I pulled the car over and stepped outside. And, right now, as Im thinking about what I felt out there, another of Josh Ritters lyrics rings true,

A sky so cold and clear the stars might stick you where you stand and youre only glad its dark cause you might see the masters hand you might cast around forever and never find the peace you seek.

Out of Clumps of Books

Aaron Guest

Guest post Twenty minutes is enough time to visit a bookstore. Especially when your son asks to go to the bookstore and you only have twenty minutes. He scoured for spy books, startled me fifteen minutes later, pointing to a book on a top shelf in the fiction stacks.

“You’ve got that book,” he said. “It’s on the coffee table.”

One Hundred Years of Solitude. Read this when I was very close to giving up on writing.

“You’ve got that one, too.”

A few rows down, to my left, I removed a book.

“Yeah. You have that one. And the other one.”

East of Eden. John Steinbeck. A coworker and I started an unofficial book club on weekends when the news was slow. I didn’t finish it because we were moving and you had just been born. I finished it two years later, around the time your sister was born.

Color me impressed that my eight-year-old son recognized my books on those shelves. But he should. He and his younger sisters have made my modest study into their play area. They take my books off my shelves and use them for staging forts, small plays with puppets, pillows for dolls, items to buy from the store, planet surfaces for their pocket-size civilizations of legos and barbies.

With enough time Isaac may have been able to point to more books on the shelves of the bookstore. And I, perhaps, may have curiously realized I was not telling him about the book itself, but where I was and who I was and what I was doing when I read the book.

Orthodoxy. G.K. Chesterton. College Senior. Feet propped on a dorm desk. I had just started dating your mom.

City of God. Augustine. Unemployed and depressed, trapped for a weekend in an apartment above two chain smokers while the street outside was under six feet of water.

Harry Potter. J.K. Rowling. All seven books while trying to get you to sleep in your bed through the night.

Infinite Jest. David Foster Wallace. Read when your aunt and three cousins came to live with us in our old house. This book kept me sane with so many lives in complete disarray.

The poet Anna Kamieńska’s Astonishments sits on a special shelf in my study. A shelf that the kids know is untouchable. In “Small Things”, she records a number of images quivering, thrusting, seeping, pricking, splashing from the detritus of everyday life. And these minuscule things, “[grow] enormous/as if Someone was building Eternity/as a swallow its nest/out of clumps of moments.”

Properly shelved or piled on the corners of yet another fort, I may not be able to tell you about all of my books as someone with a “graduate degree in books” should be able to. Still, it is clear what has taken shape around these spines. That day my son asked me to take him to the bookstore I bought a George Saunders novella. It was and is an awful book. But it is no small thing.