the grape nuts(tm) affair
I might as well just come all the way out and confess that there were many times in the course of the writing of my latest novelalways at some crucial pointwhen I felt, as the dial-a-psychics say, that he was with me. This last book took me more than four years to write and along the way there were rough spots. It is a roomy book, and every so often I got lost in it. At other times I found myself caught up in great gusts of writing, sprinting through fifty pages in five or six days. In the middle drafts, there was the crisis week when you realize that what needs to be re-conceived, re-invented is not the damn book but you. And sometimes you just do not feel at all up to the task. Often, when I was in one of these periods of stress and ferment, I would go for a walk. Sometimes it was in the countryside; at other times I would just walk around my neighborhood in Berkeley, California, where I live. I would climb up out of the Cave of Wonders I spent four years spelunking, pale and squinting, and get out in the breeze and the sunshine. And I would always see a butterfly. A lone flapping straggler sometimes; or sometimes the woods or the long grass would be filled with them. (I just want to say here that I know nothing at all about butterflies, or chess, for that matter). There were butterflies in New Hampshire, and the next year in Old Chatham, New York. One summer the yard of our house was throbbing with little white ones. Doubtless, in each case, it was the time of year and the fact that my most intense periods of work on the book tended to occur when I retreated to the country or a week or two. But each time I derived as great comfort from the sudden dizzy trajectory of a little scrap of orange and brown across my path as a believer would from a heavenly sign.
Yesterday I finished Gass's Omensetter's Luck (avant-garde, psychological, set in turn-of-the-century Ohio with a stream-of-consciousness technique that was apparently considered revolutionary at the time though I saw it as basically a talented aping of Ulysses, and lots of lovely, terrifying descriptions of a preacher's mind cracking), then moved on to Richard Powers' The Gold Bug Variations, which contains some truly atrocious puns. My favorite so far concerns "...a major dental development that would, like the Great Wall of China, provide the long-sought security of Tartar Control."