Feb. 14th, 2017

Zany, virtuosic, and pretty well-served by the deadpan delivery of Sam Freed in the audiobook.
  • No. Simplicity and justice require that thought and deed not be carelessly elided.
  • I can’t help ruminating on her lament that breasts like hers are wasted in a small media market like Railton,
  • the increasingly militant ignorance of our students
  • he lumbers off, looking oddly innocent, as if he himself believes in the concept of accidental extortion.
  • “I didn’t love to read until about then. It’s the love that makes the rut.”
  • and that may be one of my father’s great gifts—his ability to suggest through a pose, a gesture, that he was himself all he needed.
  • “Efficient?” I say. “Education?” “You bet.” “Higher education?” “Lean and mean.” “Well, it’s always been mean,” I concede.
  • I am no longer, if indeed I ever was, a romantic with respect to authorship. Bad books call to authors with the same haunting siren song as good ones, and there’s no law that says you have to listen, not when there’s an ample supply of cotton for the ears.
  • in truth Mr. Purty has cheered me up. The task he has chosen for himself, of wooing my mother with a bright red pickup truck, a Patsy Cline tape, and a string of malapropisms, is ample justification to me for not taking the world too seriously, its relentless heartbreak notwithstanding.
  • I realize that the subtext of this discussion is very different from its text. On the surface Herbert wants me to know that I’m indispensable to the cause. Below it, I’m to know that my department and my friends have already aligned themselves against me. I can be point man, or I can cease to exist. It’s testimony to Herbert’s rhetorical sophistication that text and subtext do not appear to contradict each other. It makes no difference.
  • Despite having endured endless faculty meetings, I can’t remember the last time anyone changed his (or her!) mind as a result of reasoned discourse. Anyone who observed us would conclude the purpose of all academic discussion was to provide the grounds for becoming further entrenched in our original positions.
  • A man like me, who gravitates so naturally to omniscient storytelling, probably should not be married to an oracle. He’ll spend all his time trying to prove the oracle wrong, an uphill battle. Ask Oedipus. Ask Macbeth. Ask Thurber.
  • It’s possible to overlook character flaws of in-laws for the simple reason that you feel neither responsible for them nor genetically implicated.
  • Sad little vessels all. Scuffy the Tugboat, lost and scared on the open sea. All elegantly written, all with the same artistic goal—to evidence a superior sensibility.
  • It’s a hell of a fine man who’ll write a novel and keep it to himself.
  • As he explained to June over the weekend, his contempt for the pervasive sexism of our culture is so powerful, so profound, that he wouldn’t mind being sacrificed to further the cause of gender equality. Still, he’s afraid that his position may have been misunderstood and possibly misstated. What if, in paraphrase, it sounded like he just didn’t want tenure? What if his deepest convictions were misinterpreted as personal dissatisfaction, which was the way June herself, he was horrified to discover, had taken them.
  • My argument, that comedy and tragedy don’t mix, that they must remain discrete, runs contrary to their experience.
  • There may be no harder admission for a man of my years to make than that he has wet his pants, but this, to my horror, is what I have done.
  • Other people make their peace with who they are, what they’ve become. Why can’t I? Why live the life of a contortionist, scrunched in among the rafters? So that I can maintain the costly illusion that I am not what my father is?
  • In the end it all comes down to horse trading, and being traded breaks, if not the heart, then some mechanism in the heart necessary to its proper functioning.
  • Many things will occur to a man like me when trapped in a filthy crawl space, separated from light and camaraderie by asbestos-contaminated ceiling tiles and insulation.
  • I use my own solitude to consider what may well be my worst character flaw, the fact that in the face of life’s seriousness, its pettiness, its tragedy, its lack of coherent meaning, my spirits are far too easily restored.
  • He stares over at me through moist, confused eyes. “No, the stereo cabinet.” “Oh, sorry,” I say. In my writing workshop I’d have explained to my students why, for symmetry, it had to be the chair.
  • William of Occam would be pleased with my deduction, which accounts for the major facts, is contradicted by none of them, and is not unnecessarily complex. All my theory lacks is reasons, human motives, the truth behind the known facts. The former novelist in me wonders this: How close could I get to the deeper truths, proceeding from the factual outline?
  • Tony’s mock investigation of the vomit on the hood of my car suggests how wide is the gap between known facts and a genuine understanding of their meaning.
  • I was not jealous, the truth is that I am. Not of her success. The envy I feel has less to do with accomplishment or validation than with the necessary artistic arrogance that these breed.
  • She will consider the possibility that the leaky vessel of her talent may be seaworthy after all.
  • Last week, in the hot tub with the local press, I’m in the low to midfifties tops, which is where I like to be, because in the fifties you got options. You can zig, you can zag. There’s the possibility of dignity.
  • These last few years, having limited my creative endeavors to the op-ed page of The Rear View, I’ve had little opportunity to indulge omniscience, though I continue to teach it, out of duty, to my fiction writers, even as I warn them against it. Omniscience requires a combination of worldly experience and chutzpah, in more or less equal measures, a technique I’m drawn to now in advancing middle age, perhaps because, as my wife and daughter never tire of reminding me, I tumble to the truth of things late and would prefer to give the impression that I’ve known all along. By making use of omniscience I may be able to explain to myself life’s mysteries, which I’m not even close to grasping in the first person, a more modest form, even when you’re William Henry Devereaux, Jr.
  • Julie, my wife would insist, is living evidence of our skill in parenting, that rare adult who doesn’t see the world as a dangerous, treacherous place. She expects to be loved, to be rewarded for her efforts, to be treated generously. She had tenure as a child and now expects it as an adult.
  • Bobo entertains this question with high seriousness, as if I’d just asked him to explain the disappearance of the Fool after Act Three of King Lear.
  • “I want,” I tell him as solemnly as I know how, because I don’t want this to be mistaken for irony or any other literary device, “to pee.”
  • I feel for her, but I also wish my fiction-writing students were here. Angelo could teach them something about the nature of suspense. He’s had this narrative shotgun cocked, safety off, for a long time, but he’s a patient storyteller. He’s got time slowed down, and even though we’ve known from the beginning of the story that he’s going to pull the trigger, we’re still waiting to find out if he will.
  • the world is divided between kids who grow up wanting to be their parents and those like us, who grow up wanting to be anything but. Neither group ever succeeds.
  • So I don’t have a lot of room to wiggle here. Maybe I never should have counted to three. I don’t know. But now that I’m here, now that I’m at three, I no longer have what you’d call a wide range of options. Also not a lot of time to consider the ones I do have, because after you say three, you got exactly one beat, the same amount of time it took you to get from two to three is the time you now got. The next sound you hear after three is not supposed to be four. It’s supposed to be bang. You don’t hear bang, all bets are off.”
  • Only after we’ve done a thing do we know what we’ll do, and by then whatever we’ve done has already begun to sever itself from clear significance, at least for the doer. Which is why we have spouses and children and parents and colleagues and friends, because someone has to know us better than we know ourselves. We need them to tell us. We need them to say, “I know you, Al. You’re not the kind of man who.”
  • Perhaps no man should possess the key to his wife’s affections, what makes and keeps him worthy in her eyes. That would be like gaining unauthorized access to God’s grace.
  • That afternoon I came to understand that one of the deepest purposes of intellectual sophistication is to provide distance between us and our most disturbing personal truths and gnawing fears.
  • his conviction that he was not put here in this world to learn other people's lessons. He'll accept his punishment because he has no choice, but he'll pass when it comes to the education...If we were capable of learning our lessons we'd become obedient. Sensing this, we're dead set against moral instruction.



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