It has been raining in Asheville for the past couple weeks. All varieties: Light rain, heavy rain, rain accompanied by thunder, rain accompanied by tornadoes, dribbling rain, rain rain rain. Somewhere in there Lowell became convinced that the Weather Service knew that the rain was never going to stop but was only forecasting one to two days at a time so as to not “completely destroy the spirits of the people.” We’re lucky to work at home but this kind of weather can make you feel extra confined, as if the circumference of the world has been reduced to the computer and the window with the rain streaking down it. So on Tuesday we played hooky — went to 12 Bones for beef brisket, cornbread and grits, and then downtown to visit Malaprop’s and Captain’s Bookshelf . It was a really lovely outing, which of course I would say because I clearly got to commandeer the itinerary.
At Malaprop’s, I picked up the new Geoff Dyer, Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi, which looks marvelous. At Captain’s, I got two books I’ve had my eye on for a while, The Collected Poems of Roethke (I’ve had the library’s copy since December and they’d probably like it back) and the collected stories of Elizabeth Bowen. The latter is a very pleasing hardcover edition by Jonathan Cape; beautiful typesetting, pretty engravings by Joan Hassall. I’ve been visiting it for over a year — always looking it over, feeling desire, then returning it to the shelf and acting excessively virtuous about it. But Tuesday, the book fell open to one particular story and I knew I had to bring it home.
It’s the opening of “The Confidante,” one of Bowen’s early stories. The odd thing that day was I’d just spend the entire morning trying to describe a character in my book’s “secret preoccupation” and had finally given up on the paragraph before going out. And then there was Bowen, describing the same emotion so vividly yet economically:
“You are losing your imagination,” cried Maurice.
It was a bitter reproach. He stood over her, rumpling up his hair, and the wiry tufts sprang upright, quivering from his scalp.
Penelope gulped, then sat for a moment in a silence full of the consciousness of her brutality. She had never dreamed that her secret preoccupation would be so perceptible to Maurice. Unconsciously she had been drawing her imaginations in upon herself like the petals of a flower, and her emotions buzzed and throbbed within them like a pent-up bee.
The room was dark with rain, and they heard the rip and rustle of leaves in the drinking garden.
See? It had to come home.