Saturday, March 15, 2014


opening lines

I ran into an acquaintance at a gallery a few weeks ago.  She was bright and chipper and said, "I don't know why everyone's grumbling about winter!  Winter's great, I love it!  We're in Maine, what do people expect!" As she left I thought - most uncharitably I know, and I immediately chastised myself for it - Spoken like someone who has been able to afford to go away for a vacation... then I drove home slowly in the flying snow.  Now, I do love winter.  And lord knows I love Maine.  And it's no one's fault that all our extra money this year was hoovered up by furnace repairs and heating oil bills and car repairs and family emergencies and on and on - that's what's happening all over.  BUT.  For the record.  This year, due to what many are calling "global weirding," we here in Maine have experienced January weather not only in January where it belongs, and where it is bearable and expected and character-building and we can even be proud of its severity, but also in December, February, and now March.  Zero at night, bitter days, lots of snow and ice.  On it goes.  We finally threw in the towel.  Just gave up.  There was no alternative.  Ryan's been sick for two weeks and I've been sick for one week, with ridiculous lingering colds.  So disheartening.  Ryan went back to work after a few days at home, since everyone he works with has it too.  Since I work at home, here I am anyway, with zero ambition.  Thank god I can still read.

Although after getting sick my reading took a left turn at Albuquerque and it seems that I am finished with Samuel Clemens for the time being.  When this cold first loomed I wanted nothing more to do with anything I didn't already know and love well in advance, so I curled up with a big stack of old favorites, among them China Court:  The Hours of a Country House by Rumer Godden (Viking 1961) and Shine On, Bright & Dangerous Object by Laurie Colwin (Viking 1975).  Both novels have fantastic opening lines, and both begin - boom! - with the deaths of major characters.

China Court:

"Old Mrs. Quin died in her sleep in the early hours of an August morning."

Shine On, Bright & Dangerous Object:

"My husband died sailing off the coast of Maine, leaving me a widow at the age of twenty-seven."

How can you not want to read on, in either case?  You're right in the thick of the action, from the get-go.  And despite their stark beginnings neither are about death, rather they are about life going on, relentlessly and passionately.  Which it does do.  To wit, last November, over the course of one of the last warm afternoons in living memory, I planted several hundred bulbs in a garden bed I'd dug out from the base of the low stone wall on the south side of our house.  Crocuses, narcissus, daffodils - many colors and varieties - the dry bulbs got mixed together in a big paper bag then planted all along the wall and mulched with compost and dried leaves.  The guy at the garden store said, when I bought them, "You'll be glad you did!"  And now, oh I am.  I know they're still there, under two feet of ice and snow at the moment, but soon - soon lord? - the sun will warm the granite wall and the wall will melt the ice and snow and the bulbs will send up their first green shoots.  Those very first signs of spring are their own wonderful opening lines.  You read them with delight and gratitude, and can't wait for the rest of the story.   

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