Wednesday, October 17, 2012

William McPherson's Testing the Current & Dear Blogger

To be published by NYRB in Jan.
Those of you who read my blog will remember that I began William McPherson's Testing the Current in September. My old paperback fell apart page by page, and I had to order a new used copy before I could finish it.  

It has been a rewarding read. In this brilliant novel, McPherson meticulously describes the delights of a privileged childhood in a small town in the midwest in 1939.  The events of this third-person narrative are viewed through the eyes of an inquisitive eight-year-old , Tommy MacAllister, who has that childhood gift of accepting almost everybody. His observations of his upper-class family, friends, and neighbors are charming, funny, and sometimes distressing.  He does not understand all he sees and hears, but we decode it for him.  His neighbor, Mrs. Slade, injects morphine in front of him ("Mrs. Slade, why do you use those needles?"), his mother is having an affair with Mr. Wolfe (when Tommy sees Mr. Wolfe caressing his mother's leg under the table, he thinks Mr. Wolfe is alleviating the pain of a burn on her leg), and an incompetent furnaceman poses a threat to his father's well-run chemical plant  ("What the hell is that furnaceman doing?' Tommy's father suddenly exclaimed.").  

Tommy's father owns a chemical plant, and the family lives luxuriously off the proceeds. This is not a factory novel, though. McPherson lyrically describes the MacAllisters' seemingly idyllic life, a way of life that hasn't vanished completely. They summer on the island, belong to a country club, and Tommy's mother and father travel. Golf is an important social rite. His two older brothers are fraternity brothers, though one has dropped out for a while.  There is sadness under the surface, and Tommy manages to shut out some of his  more disturbing premonitions.

It is the simplicity and grace of the style that make this book so memorable.

Here is an excerpt of a two-page paragraph about a trip to Chicago. 

"They stayed at the Palmer House, not in his Aunt Clara's apartment, and Tommy had his own room that connected to his parents'.  They kept the door open, though.  On Saturday they took another train, to Evanston, to go to a football game and visit his brother John at his fraternity house, one of the biggest houses Tommy had ever seen and he'd thought that he lived in a big house.  John's fraternity house seemed full of light and huge leather couches and chairs.  It had a double staircase that divided above the front entrance, wrapping around the doorway as it descended grandly to the foyer.  Tommy liked to run up one side of the sunlit double stairway and down the other."

Gorgeous writing, and there is a sequel, To the Sargasso Sea.   NYRB is reissuing Testing the Current in January, so save your Christmas money.

2.  And now on to my new special correspondence section, DEAR BLOGGER, or 50/50

I've been around since 2006, so you probably think it's a love fest here.  I have my fans, but I have my detractors:  it's probably A 50/50 split.  I am not as beloved as Pioneer Woman or Best Cat Videos of 2012, but who is?  Their comments are full of LUV THIS and YOU ROCK.  My commenters tend to write complete sentences and to tell me in tedious detail why I can't understand John Irving until I accept the fact that "we are all Billy Abbott."  I am not Billy Abbott, though.

Anyway, for fun I chose and edited  selections of the good and the bad from my comment box (with names and details changed to spare the innocent and the guilty).

Dear Blogger,

I love your posts and wondered:  Do you read Elizabeth von Arnim?

Love Old Books


Dear Love Old Books,

Yes, she is one of my favorite writers.  I love Mr. Skeffington.



Dear Blogger,

Bette Davis!

Love Old Books


Dear Love Old Books,

Claud Rains!



Dear Blogger, 

Did you see the one with Greer Garson?

Love Old Books
Deat Love Old Books,

On my list.

(It turned out my new best friened was a scientist in the rainforest with a cell phone, or something like that.  Oh, wait, that was Ann Patchett's State of Wonder.)

Dear Blogger,

I come here almost every day, and you write so much.  How do you do it?  

I am thinking about taking Ritalin.

You Write So Much

Dear You Write So Much,

Never think about Ritalin.  It is a street drug.  Even if your doctor prescribes it, think twice.

That said, I depend on controlled substances.  Start the day with Calcium 600 +D, green tea with ginseng, and  a Vegan pancake. Then progress to do a little tai chi outside your office.  Once inside, sit in your cubicle and sip  chai.  Then you might as well meditate and say the word "chi" or "chai" over and over.  Then blog.  There is nothing in your contract that says you can't blog.  Blog, blog away.



(Next, the non-fan infuriated by my professed inability to do housework. ) 

Dear Blogger,

I have a problem.  I have not lerned one thing hear.  Anybody can do housework.  You are lucky to be married and would be fired under other circumstanzes.  I have not lerned one thing about housework here.  

Going Back to Pioneer Woman


Dear Going Back to Pioneer Woman,

Anybody can do housework. Etc.  

That is the point.  Not everybody can write about not doing housework.  

Try Clorox, or do I mean Cloziril?

And do go back to Pioneer Woman.



Rilla said...

I've ordered McPherson's book.

Anonymous said...

Elizabeth von Arnim's The Caravaners is my favorite.

What a fun blog! Does someone really go to your blog saying, "hear" for "hear," or are you making it up?