It’s the last Friday of summer*, so today’s words of inspiration and wisdom come from the Soul Rebels, the latest in New Oreans’ seemingly unending stream of kick-ass brass band ensembles.
“Everybody get up on the floor, and enjoy yourself; and enjoy yourself.”
Represent that 504.
*Okay, yes, technically summer doesn’t end until the autumnal equinox which isn’t for another three weeks, and that’s only in the northern hemisphere, but in this little corner of the world summer ends, for all practical (“practical”, a word which when used as here means something like “fun”) purposes, with Labor Day weekend.
The title essay in Ann Patchett’s excellent new (2013) collection, This Is The Story Of A Happy Marriage, isn’t. The story of a happy marriage, that is.
Instead it’s the story of how utterly unlikely and improbable Patchett’s second, much-delayed—by her own insistence, because if she didn’t get married again she wouldn’t have to get divorced again and she didn’t want to get divorced again and everyone in her family going back for generations had failed marriages and she already had one of her own and she wasn’t going to take even the chance of going through that again—marriage ended up being, yes, happy.
With all those failed marriages to learn from, Patchett was well into her first marriage (the unhappy one, the one that this essay isn’t about…even though she devotes more pages to this unhappy marriage than the happy marriage that this essay is about) when she receives “…a gift—it was the first decent piece of instruction about marriage I had ever been given in my twenty-five years of life. ‘Does your husband make you a better person?’ Edra asked.” -[snip]-
“…I had no idea what she was talking about.
‘Are you smarter, kinder, more generous, more compassionate, a better writer?’ she said, running down her list. ‘Does he make you better?’
‘That’s not the question,’ I said. ‘It’s so much more complicated than that.’
‘It’s not more complicated that that,’ she said. ‘That’s all there is: Does he make you better and do you make him better?'” (p. 249)
Impishly disarming love song from the great Joan Armatrading.
I don’t need a bracelet
For my shoulder
I don’t own a rabbit
Here are three things that made Peter Hoeg’s novel, Smilla’s Sense Of Snow, an international bestseller in 1992 and that make it a gripping, fascinating read today:
- Hoeg’s sense of tempo—The story is a first-person narrative, told by its protagonist, Smilla Qaaviqaaq Jaspersen, the 37 year-old daughter of a deceased Greenlandic Inuit hunter and her Danish doctor-explorer husband. Who Smilla is, what her childhood was like, where and how she learned her extraordinary set of skills (like her “sense of snow” that allows her to recognize the death of her young neighbor and friend, Isaiah, was murder, not an accident), what her life and relationships are like now as she approaches middle-age…all these, as well as the multiple mysteries connecting Isaiah’s death to their native Greenland and the circumstances that brought her parents together in the first place, are revealed slowly, deliberately, like the exploration of an unknown darkened house by flashlight, or the piecing together of a jigsaw puzzle over days and weeks. Imagine Ravel’s “Bolero”, but slowly crescendoing for hours rather than just minutes.
- Hoeg’s painting of scenes—Smilla’s Sense Of Snow is divided into three sections: The City, The Ship and (briefly) The Ice. Within each section, the action takes place in a limited number of locations. Hoeg’s descriptive talents are such that the reader not only can visualize Smilla’s apartment, her father’s mansion, the docklands of Copenhagen, the rooms and spaces aboard the ship, but practically touch and smell them too. It’s a remarkably absorptive tale.
- Hoeg’s use of simile—-It’s extraordinary. Smilla’s Sense Of Snow is filled with brilliant, memorable similes, as when Smilla describes the possessive love of her father’s newest girlfriend as being “like a military operation that would tolerate anything and fight any necessary tank battles and demand the world in return“. (p. 262) Or when Smilla uses mathematics to explain to Peter her claustrophobia, and why “snow and ice and numbers” are what make her “truly happy”:
In the dominant narrative, it’s never a left-handed Negro girl from East Texas who saw Elvis on television, decided “I want to be like him“, took up the guitar, led her own band and wrote chart-topping hits.
That’s because the dominant narrative doesn’t know what to do with Barbara Lynn, a good Christian girl from Beaumont, Texas whose smoky, bluesy song, “You’ll Lose A Good Thing”, hit #8 on the pop charts and bumped Ray Charles’ “I Can’t Stop Loving You” from #1 on the R&B charts back in 1962.