Go Ask Alice
I was always looking at her through too close a lens. “Read her,” they told us in workshop, “and if she doesn’t seem like much, wait ten years and then go read her again.” She did perfectly the thing that we were understood to be trying to do, although we never did it right. We weren’t serious enough, or else we were serious but not wise. After seeing it done badly dozens and dozens of times, after doing it so badly ourselves, we stopped reading her. It wasn’t conscious. She was a perfect background, and since no one ever questioned that she was very, very good, we forgot to ask her any questions at all. She was too close to learn from. That was ungenerous, but we weren’t wise, and to get wiser we had to travel. I left Iowa with a library full of North American moderns; over the next ten years that shelf got smaller and smaller. Looking at it now, I’m surprised to find an empty space between Morrison and Nabokov. Where did Open Secrets go? Into the past, into the Iowa River. So if I went looking for it again, it would be like going home after years away: the same snow around the chimneys, clouds off the steam plant and knock of the radiators, but also the surprise of looking in a shop window and seeing over the book spines a disintegrating face without the awkward charm that youth got for free. The best case would be that on meeting her, she would take it all in at once, the ungraceful straddling of years, and say, “What did you think my stories were about?” The best case would be a small house with room to sit.