Alexander Crompton

📚 22 - November

I attracted thematically similar books this month. It happens that some (not all) of these themes match my own creative obsessions; the things Patricia Highsmith might tell me to exploit to my full ability. Outsiders turning or returning to tight-knit communities they have various levels of claim to, haunted houses (haunted villages?), the personal archival work of sifting through old papers and artifacts (or conversely the refusal to do such work), secret chambers, avatars and masks, low-stakes political machinations, surveillance through windows, the disappearance of and search for family members, characters falling into or willingly descending into the earth. I can't get enough!!

Another point of interest: I didn't realize this, but all three books were published when the author was younger than I am now.

I'm writing this months later, so unfortunately I have to give these books short shrift in my treatment of them, despite enjoying all of them.

Ōe, Kenzaburo (1967). The Silent Cry. [trans. John Bester]

I loved this book!

I was reading a little blurb about the book afterward which framed it as "about" the encroachment of (Western?) urban modernity into the traditional Japanese countryside. That's funny, because for me the book is so clearly and predominantly "about" engagement with familial/ancestral past. Clearly a lot going on with this book. Difficult read, but worth it.

Hamilton, Virginia (1968). The House of Dies Drear.

What was previously called "a middle grade novel," one of many I was assigned but did not read during my education. Rereading it, I can see why—the beginning was hard to follow with its dream-sequence-shifts forward and backward in time. I wish I'd stuck with it! It is/was up my alley, and I could have learned something about US history.

The story follows a boy and his family as they move far away from their home to live in a house that was a stop on the Underground Railroad—but mysterious, perhaps supernatural, forces are at work trying to run them out.

Something interesting about this book is that it's written (more or less) for children, but the protagonist (the thirteen-year-old Thomas Small) doesn't much think about or interact with peers. Instead, most of his emotional energies are familial, including a keen empathetic concern for his parents. To me, this is true to life.

This engagement might be in contrast with later/contemporary YA, which is (more or less) not written for children, and seems (from what little I've seen, and from what I sense dimly) to foreground peer relationships and to relegate parents to objects-of-rolled-eyes and/or occasional wisdom-sharers. Maybe in this way contemporary YA, like the boarding school books or orphan-on-a-pirate-ship novels of the past, provide fantasies of a childhood without the (caring and oppressive, life-sustaining and life-diminishing, infinitely rich and infinitely dull) familial home being the center of the child's affective universe. Just a thought.

NDiaye, Marie (1994). Un temps de saison. [That Time of Year]

I think a big part of the pleasure in this book is watching it unfold in terms of plot; if you plan on reading it, just pick it up without reading any more about it. The book is quite short.

A simple-enough story; I've seen called a "parable." A Parisian schoolteacher, vacationing in a village, stays past the tourist season to search for his missing wife and child. He's made to understand that the only way to possibly find his family is to assimilate himself with the indifferent and hostile villagers; they will not otherwise help him (or rather, he will not have the cultural knowledge necessary to ask the right questions.)

There's a lot to say about this book—but I need to run now.