Posts Tagged ‘Pulitzer’

I’ve said it before (but at the time I may have still been events coordinator at our local indie bookstore, and therefore professionally invested in exhorting people to attend) and I’ll say it again: there’s nothing quite like hearing an author read and discuss his or her work. Take Paul Harding, who I heard at Gibson’s today. Admittedly I’ve said many times I could listen to him read his grocery list and learn something. But hearing him read from his new book Enon helped me understand the reaction I’d had to the book in a way even discussing it with other readers couldn’t.

I read this book during my vacation reading binge. I came away feeling somewhat drained; I describe Enon as devastatingly brilliant and just plain devastating. I chatted with a writer friend about what we each thought — it’s stylistically different than Tinkers, which Paul* described today as an unlineated lyric poem. Enon is first person narrative, a book with dialogue. She felt Enon wasn’t as “tight” as Tinkers and said although she admired it she didn’t enjoy it, which gave me pause.

I agreed but then rescinded that feeling today: I stand by my original assertion that I enjoyed it. It’s a tough book, emotionally. But even in its darkest parts, Paul noted, he made sure never to extinguish the light altogether; he hoped the light — hope — would be the brighter for the darkness. Paul described it today as a ghost story, and a book about a person, Charlie Crosby, experiencing grief.

He noted that a narrative about an actual grieving person is not a meditation on grief. Instead, he called it a lamentation, a psalm. He said that Charlie’s sense he shouldn’t be doing what he’s doing, and then his doing it anyway, is straight out of Paul’s letter to the Romans. I sat there thinking “that’s so true, and I hadn’t thought of that.” A few minutes later he said something I’ve heard him say before: that he tells his students, what a writer should strive for is that readers will read a sentence and say “that’s true, and I’ve always known it but I’ve never seen someone put it into words like this before.”

That sense of profound truth, of human experience writ both small, in the story of a particular person, and large, in the sense you get reading it that this man is every man who ever lived, now and in the past and the future, that time has compressed, as Paul would have it, and that reading this book reveals what is, what was, and what will be in the human heart, well, that is just about as beautiful an experience as a reader can have.

And that is why I enjoyed Enon, in all its devastating, heartbreaking, gutsy raw truth.  The literary pyrotechnics aside — Paul’s inordinate skill at not only writing prose that it strong and powerful and lovely but also at weaving so much detail into his world that you feel you could walk through the town of Enon and know your way — this book will enter your mind and heart. Paul Harding makes me see the world differently. It’s both a more difficult and a more hopeful place, which I always knew, and never heard anyone else put it into words quite the same way before.

*I’ve spoken with him several times and actually sold a copy of Tinkers to his mother at one of his events before I realized that’s who she was. Also he’s possibly the only Pulitzer prize winner I’ll be on a first name basis with, so I’m taking the liberty of referring to him as Paul.

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