Leave the door open for the unknown, the door into the dark | Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost

Sunday, December 6, 2015


The Diver’s Clothes Lying Empty

You are sitting here with us,  
but you are also out walking in a field at dawn.

You are yourself the animal we hunt  
when you come with us on the hunt.

You are in your body  
like a plant is solid in the ground,  

yet you are wind.

You are the diver’s clothes  
lying empty on the beach.  

You are the fish.

Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks


Give me something easy, I say to Peg, the head librarian. She juts her chin towards the farthest rack from the reference desk. Vida, she says. At this point in the semester, everyone's gruff, but Peg is always like that - at least at first, when you don't yet know that she's just got a really acute bullshit meter, and - in the beginning - you've got to prove yourself to her.

Anyway, I trust Peg. She thinks I am a good customer of the library, and she gives good advice. Sometimes, head librarians are the only ones you can trust. When all I needed was something lusty and artsy and crimson, Peg gave me Paris Red by Maureen Gibbon. When I looked like I could use a very tall glass of wine and a very easy read, she gave me Misty Copeland's Life in Motion. Once, Peg and I discussed Lily King's Euphoria for half an hour, gushing and gushing and, in the end, laughing snidely. I don't remember why. I think Peg reads at least one book a day.

And so when she says, Vida, I go and figure out what she's talking about. I scan the covers until I see the author's name: Vendela Vida. I haven't heard of her, and I'm sometimes intimidated by writers with exotic names. But it's a smallish book, and the cover pictures a woman walking beneath a Middle-Eastern looking arch. Vendela Vida: The Diver's Clothes Lie Empty. I check it out.

As often happens, Vida languishes on the kitchen table until it's due back at the library. Laura from reference calls, as she does once a month or so, to remind me my book is late. I bring it back to Peg, and she checks it out again, and I take it home again and this time I read the jacket, the back cover, and then I turn to the back jacket and look at Vida: pretty, fortyish, vaguely sexy, vaguely foreign. I begin to read.

After about two pages, I close the book. No. Once, an agent told me that no one will ever represent your manuscript if it's in the second person. You, you, you, you, you, Vida's book goes, and I don't read any farther because no, no, it isn't me, it's you, Vida, it's you. I go upstairs and look up Vida's review on the New York Times. Parul Sehgal writes:

Ms. Vida has opted for the second person, hoping, it seems, that its intimacy might invite the reader to plunge more deeply into the story...There’s a temptation to set the book aside immediately, preferably with tongs. Resist the urge.

OK, fine. So she gets to break the rules. She has like three books already, after all.

I go back downstairs; I pick up Vida; I read on.

In the end, there's intrigue and mystery and little echoes of Beautiful Ruins, that fantastical (and fantastically popular, though I couldn't ever quite get into it) book by Jess Walter. There are relationships with "famous American actresses" who look radiant, radiant, but in real-life are predictably bitchy. There are predictable American tourists, and even a storyline I could predict: a baby, a sister, an escape.

Still, I read Vida's book word for word, page by page. Lush, rich detail, as one reviewer praised? I don't know about that - I'm not sure I ever quite saw Casablanca, where the story was set. And Lena Dunham, one of the more prestigious reviewers, claims there's great humor there, but I never laughed aloud. And I mean, the most beautiful part of the whole book is the Rumi quote from which the title - the diver's clothes - is drawn.

Yet there is something about Vida's book that snagged me and held on. I devoured it in basically one sitting (I did get up to pee and feed the cat and cook dinner and sleep and wake up). Still, in the morning I sat down with Vida before I even started the coffee, and by the time I read the final page, I was late for class. My heart was beating hard.

I love a book like that.

Thanks, Peg.

No comments:

Post a Comment