Sunday, April 21, 2013

the last book I ever read (Jim Harrison's The River Swimmer, excerpt seven)

from The River Swimmer: Novellas (The Land of Unlikeness) by Jim Harrison:

He stood near the door to the upstairs feeling as he often did that his consciousness was rushing past him at a rate that exceeded that of a suitable life. The grand thing about painting was that your mind slowed to the pace of the work at hand or you simply couldn’t paint well. He decided to take a half hour walk like he used to do in the city when he was overexcited and would walk from SoHo up to Washington Square and back.

He chose the open pasture across the road, drifting this way and that, a little concerned that his thoughts would begin with his daughter, then to his mother, to Margaret in Europe, but then to Susann, a painter friend of his in college who had died from a brain tumor a few years before. Way back when he was the star of his college art department, largely thought to be the most gifted student, tempestuous, full of Sturm und Drang, full of pronouncements, and with a coterie of three girls and a gay student, Robert, following him around and hanging on whatever he wished to say. Clive, however, and an observant art history professor knew a secret: Susann was a better painter. She was shy and deferential and lived out her life in obscurity up near Glen Arbor in Leelanau County. She painted sublimely, mostly landscapes, watercolors, and he had tried without success to get her a New York gallery. They were only in touch every year or so, and on a few of her infrequent trips to New York. She would always say, “Don’t worry about me, I’m fine.” She, in fact, did sell well in her locale but to Clive, Susann represented the grotesque unfairness of the art world, how someone as good as Susann could be totally ignored. He owned three of her paintings and a few watercolors and when she died he had to put her work in a closet for a year to avoid his anger.

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