Saturday, February 6, 2021

The dawn sky is streaked with bands of lemon and midnight blue, as if someone has been finger-painting behind the vast silhouettes of the maples. It is a lonely sight, even among the crowded, jumbled roofs of a city neighborhood. The sky, like the sea, resists the tamer.

Yesterday I worked on my collaboration poem, and I think it's mostly where it needs to be, unless my painter-partner has some suggestions for changes. I also finished my reading vacation (all of the Little House books in a rapid row), and now I have turned again to Lampedusa's The Leopard. Like McMurtry's Lonesome Dove, like Mathiessen's Shadow Country, The Leopard is a book in which the landscape is the greatest character. I've never been to any of these places--the Great Plains, Florida's Thousand Islands, Sicily--and I don't read these books because I necessarily hope to go there. It's how the novelist makes such intense use of place: that's what draws me.

It's interesting/disturbing/tiresome that these three books are by white men. Of course Wilder's books also make rich use of landscape, but the novels are constrained by authorial prissiness and a child audience. Cather is a better example of a woman writer who treats landscape as an active character. Louise Erdrich, to a degree, can also do it. (I'm not including those books that primarily use landscape as a decorative backdrop or as a palimpsest for human emotions.) I've read a fair number of Native American novels and memoirs lately, and landscape, as such, is not always particularly key to their work. Not that it should be; I'm just noticing. There are lots of writers whose creations arise from people and their stuff--both physical stuff and dramatic stuff. Shakespeare, for instance. It's a perfectly good way to think about art. 

In any case, I do love The Leopard, and I know I've said so on this blog many times. It's a novel I should write about, and maybe someday I will.


nancy said...

I just reread Ethan Frome (I know -- do I need to get more depressed? -- but it is February,
after all). The landscape creates, mirrors, and somehow completes the characters. Have you ever seen the Orozco murals at Dartmouth? There is an amazing (and depressing) panel that expresses the same cold, frozen idea of New Hampshire/VT ethos.

Dawn Potter said...

I have seen those murals. They are incredible!

I was talking about Ethan Frome with a friend the other day . . . thinking about it as quintessential northern New England gloom. He was also mentioning Edwin Arlington Robinson: maybe those poems would fit your mood too!

Carlene Gadapee said...

I am always intrigued by setting as character; Russian novelists and short story writers seem to have a (depressing, cold, desolate) handle on it.

Solzenhitsyn's Ivan Denisovich comes to mind.

nancy said...

Also: The Magic Mountain
I think I need to reread that again.