I took time out to read this weekend. I had been riding around with Pat Conroy’s newest book, South of Broad, in my car for a week. It’s due back at the library, overdue in fact. I never got around to reading it. That makes me angry since I made a special trip to check it out. Instead of taking it back, I chalked the extra 50 cents in fees up in “good investment” and made myself take the time out. It’s about 500 pages. I knew it would take me all the reading time I could squeeze out of the weekend.
I love Pat Conroy. His words are so beautiful that they make me hurt. He can tell the ridiculous, true tales of the South and the deep, dark pains of the human psyche with the most lyrical of words. His stories are usually about the cult of class, both the moralism and ignominy of Catholicism, and all the fractures of human spirit which lie almost imperceivable, like hair- breadth cracks in fine China.
What he does best, is characters. His stick. They get under my ribs, under my nails; they cling. They seem more real than those breathing actual air around me. Because I can see inside them: their thoughts, their fearful vacillations, their justifications, they seem more real.
It always takes me a day or two to truly return from reading great writing, the kind that leaves me in some kind of juxtaposition and in a place where there are only questions. Good writing leaves me at once in tension and free-fall… sort of suspended in a post traumatic shock – a place where my mind disavows and my body seeks to right its disrupted systems.
All the foibles and secret distresses of those I just met through story will plague me a good while yet. I deeply consider and characterize them. I ache alongside them and silently plea their case before God, whom they cannot seem to find. I stretch and reach and wrap my mind around their predicament, work words to my lips to warm them and to awaken them from their wounding.
But, I will sit and gaze dreamily on so many who are not ten feet from my inhalations. I will shade my eyes from hands grasping at sunlight, I will cover my ears from silent cries toward me. Why is this so?