|This is a long, grey afternoon of a book read before a fire. Reminiscent tales told because the mind caught them as they wandered through, brought up by outside events, or a chair or a photo... This novel was originally published in 1975.
Alden Dennis Weer lives in the Midwest in the town of
. He does not wander far from his natal landscape. His parents traveled constantly. So as a child, Dennis, known as Den, lives with his Aunt Olivia. Den opens up his memories of his life initially from the prospect of an older man who thinks he’s had a stroke. He parades his memories out in detail ensconced in an old ramble of a house with many rooms. Time and characters move around this novel like eddies of smoke. One is right before you, the next meanders away up by the ceiling. One minute he is remembering a backyard birthday party, the next he is an executive of a factory that packages orange juice.
Den Weer grabs and spreads his memories/stories out to nail down his life and by the process of remembering keep his life vital. Among the scenes he describes: He tells us about driving to a farm house as a child so his Aunt Olivia and a gentlemen caller of hers can persuade a woman they don’t know to part with a large (possibly ostrich) egg painted with Chinese scenes. Or a fragment of Scheherazade’s 1001 Nights may pop into the middle of a tale, or a remembered afternoon exploration of river cliffs to find prehistoric remains, or a memory of himself as a young man dealing with a used book dealer who specializes in making exact copies of antique manuscripts and selling them as originals…
What is this novel about? Trying to nail down the ephemera of memory whether it be the images of something that may have really happened or recounting someone’s story or a bleary mixture of both---these memories are strung together like a necklace made of various beads: all sizes and colors and frequently, at least for me, with no real discernable pattern.
Is there a method to Wolfe’s madness: Undoubtedly.
Do I understand it? Not really.
But it didn’t affect my overall enjoyment and deep appreciation of this book.
It is so finely written, filled with eccentricities, smooth as a river running cold and deep in late autumn. Many, many things lie beneath the surface.
And Wolfe lays out the treasures of his imagination in a glorious random display; a veritable book of curiosities.
As fine an example of American writing as one can find, this is a book to savor from an author at the top of his skills. It made me think of Thomas Wolfe’s “Look Homeward, Angel”.
Utterly wonderful and nostalgic. And dare I say: peaceful. ~~ Sue Martin