Wednesday, May 22, 2019

the last book I ever read (Late in the Day: A Novel by Tessa Hadley, excerpt four)

from Late in the Day: A Novel by Tessa Hadley:

When tens of thousands of refugees from East Germany had begun pouring into Czechoslovakia in November 1989, Alex had brought his mother round to their flat so they could watch together the events unfolding on the television. For a few nights Margita slept in their spare bed. Zachary had telephoned from New York; Alex had stayed home from his classes in the language school and walked from room to room with the radio pressed to his ear in case he missed anything. Christine sat breastfeeding Isobel, watching the abandoned Trabants blocking the Prague streets, the tent city growing in the courtyard of the West German Embassy, the police trying to stop the men and women climbing over the embassy walls. There were mass demonstrations, the crowd jangled their key rings, Alex thought you could pick out on the television the StB men moving against them, taking photographs. In Bratislava they broadcast dissident music via television signals from Vienna. Alex and Margita and Christine couldn’t turn their eyes away from the police in their white helmets breaking up demonstrations, using tear gas, pulling the peaceful demonstrators down by the hair, kicking at them and beating them with their truncheons.

Then Havel in his leather coat was addressing the crowds in Prague, and the crowds were waltzing in slow motion and waving sparklers. Havel was embracing Dubček, recalled from his desk job working for the Forestry Service – somehow he had not been hanged or shot. A bust of Stalin was paraded with Nic Netrva Vecne written on a paper strung around his neck; the cameras loved that, Nothing Lasts Forever. Margita turns to look at Christine on the sofa, tears running down her face, making runnels in the pink powder. She said she’d thought it would last another hundred years, or four hundred. She was still handsome at sixty, with her fierce stare and thick shock of hair, home-dyed, streaked blonde; her hand was pressed to her heavy bosom in its close-fitting jazz-print dress as if she were holding in something fighting to get out, and she pulled her cardigan tight across her chest, squeezing its buttons in her fist, in tense concentration on the TV screen. She and Alex spoke together in their own language, which Christine hadn’t often heard him use. The family had always tried to speak in English, it had been the first rule Margita and Tomas adopted on arriving in the new country, to save their son. Stesk was homesickness, Margita explained to Christine, it was for sentimentalists, she’d refused to feel it on principle. But on a day like this . . .

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

the last book I ever read (Late in the Day: A Novel by Tessa Hadley, excerpt three)

from Late in the Day: A Novel by Tessa Hadley:

– But what is your problem exactly? Alex said severely.

She gazed at him, eyes glittering in the candlelight. – Well, I’m not very good at being happy.

Monday, May 20, 2019

the last book I ever read (Late in the Day: A Novel by Tessa Hadley, excerpt two)

from Late in the Day: A Novel by Tessa Hadley:

The two girls stood holding onto each other, Grace weeping into Isobel’s shoulder, Isobel stroking her shorn head. Hannah carried flowers down from the office, vases full with tall white foxgloves and delphiniums and hollyhocks, fat peonies. But the sight of Zachary’s body was a horror to Christine, the darkness in the nostrils, his closed face. He looked like a stuffed doll, with his stubby-fingered hand laid in rhetorical gesture across his heart, wedding ring on ostentatious display. Lydia had given the undertakers one of the lightweight wool suits he’d had made in Hong Kong – a clownish tobacco-brown check.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

the last book I ever read (Late in the Day: A Novel by Tessa Hadley, excerpt one)

from Late in the Day: A Novel by Tessa Hadley:

Afterwards she said she’d known, as soon as she opened her eyes and saw his face. – You should see your face, Alex. It’s a giveaway. And of course if anyone else had died, Dad would have to come to tell me.

In the car on the way home, she kept her little rucksack on her knee and was distinctively herself: looking round her out the window, taking everything in, questioning him sensibly about what had happened. He repeated to her all the detail that was becoming mythic, about Jane Ogden’s new show, Zachary keeling over in the gallery, hitting his head on the desk. – But why, but why? Grace said, staring straight ahead through the windscreen, rocking backwards and forwards just perceptibly in a childish rhythm, hugging the rucksack that she wouldn’t put down on the back seat, or on the floor. At some point she announced that she was starving, and they stopped at a motorway service station. She ate something disgusting, with every sign of a hearty appetite – a full English breakfast; and then shortly afterwards, when they were on the motorway again, he had to pull over quickly onto the hard shoulder. She jumped out of the car and vomited into the tall grass full of daisies, which was blowing in sensuous long ripples in the wind.

Friday, May 17, 2019

the last book I ever read (Bowlaway: A Novel by Elizabeth McCracken, excerpt twelve)

from Bowlaway: A Novel by Elizabeth McCracken:

They went to Chen Wei’s on Thirteenth. Arthur turned out to be their favorite waiter, a Chinese-looking man in his seventies who wore a red bow tie and spoke English with a disorienting County Cork accent very much like Joe’s aunt Rose. Joe couldn’t figure out why they wanted to introduce him, though they shook hands. Arthur was so old that every time he showed up with a plate Joe half stood to help him with it. This incensed Arthur. “Lookit,” he said to Joe,” lookit,” but he was so mad he couldn’t finish the thought. To make peace, Manny made them both sit down and went to the kitchen to get the plates himself.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

the last book I ever read (Bowlaway: A Novel by Elizabeth McCracken, excerpt eleven)

from Bowlaway: A Novel by Elizabeth McCracken:

Cracker didn’t watch him. How could she? Instead she tried to think of him as merely a man who—like most of the men of the world—made their money mysteriously and elsewhere.

His fingers were dyed red from pistachios. His stomach hurt. He’d given up everything to get his family back and had forgotten that the first thing he’d given up was his family. What did she do with her days? She sat and waited for him to come home. He sat and waited to be invited.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

the last book I ever read (Bowlaway: A Novel by Elizabeth McCracken, excerpt ten)

from Bowlaway: A Novel by Elizabeth McCracken:

The Mostra delle Terre Italiane d’Oltremare had been designed to strike awe, like the harpoon in Ethiopia’s hand. Arch had been staring up at her when he met Joan, who had sidled up beside him and whispered, “Look on my works, you mighty, and despair.”

“Ye,” said Arch. “Ye mighty.”