by Stephen Parrish
The set-up: Anglican vicar Mark Brian is assigned by his bishop to Kingcome, British Columbia to (unknowingly) live out his remaining days. The bishop hopes that working among the First Nations tribe in Kingcome will teach Mark what he needs to learn to face his impending death. In this scene Mark is finally confronted with the truth.
He went slowly up the river. In front of the vicarage he anchored the boat and waded ashore. He trudged up the black sands to the path and stopped. From the dark spruce he heard an owl call—once, and again—and the questions that had been rising all day long reached the door of his mind and opened it.
He went up the path and the steps, through the living room and into the kitchen. The lights were on. At the stove Marta was preparing his dinner.
“Marta, something strange happened tonight. On the bank of the river I heard the owl call my name,” and it was a question he asked, an answer he sought.
She did not say, “Nonsense, it was my name the owl called, and I am old and with me it does not matter.” She did not say, “It’s true you’re thin and white, but who is not? It has no importance.”
She turned, spoon still in her hand, lifting her sweet, kind face with its network of tiny wrinkles, and she answered his question as she would have answered any other.
She said, “Yes, my son.”
One of the characteristics I like about Craven’s writing is its deceptive simplicity: “He went slowly up the river.” “The lights were on.” To some (apparently including a few Amazon customers) this is boring. To me the absence of flowery metaphors allows the focus to be on the enormity of the moment rather than the author’s skillful choice of words. A man is just now finding out he’s going to die. Hush the decorative language—for just that moment, please.
You could argue that all writing ought to be this way. Maybe. But I love the sound of words too, not just the messages they’re trying to communicate. I love the music they make all by themselves, without even having the need to communicate anything.
So keep writin’ beautifully, y’all. Just don’t spend too much time in the thesaurus. Especially if what’s happening on the page is bigger than the language being used to describe it.
What do you think?
Click here to visit the book’s Amazon page.
Bonus exercise: see if you can recognize the following poem and its author before you get to the end:
A destiny that leads the English to the Dutch
is strange enough;
but one that leads from Epsom into Pennsylvania,
and thence into the hills that shut in Altamond
over the proud coral cry of the cock,
and the soft stone smile of an angel,
is touched by that dark miracle of chance
which makes new magic in a dusty world.
Each of us is all the sums he has not counted:
subtract us into nakedness and night again,
and you shall see, begin in Crete four thousand years ago,
the love that ended yesterday in Texas.
The seed of our destruction will blossom in the desert,
the alexin of our cure grows by a mountain rock,
and our lives are haunted by a Georgia slattern,
because a London cutpurse went unhung.
Each moment is the fruit of forty thousand years.
The minute-winning days, like flies,
buzz home to death,
and every moment is a window on all time.
Recognize it? You’ve read it before, you’re just seeing it out of context: these are the opening lines of Look Homeward, Angel, by Thomas Wolfe—restructured as a poem. I just want to prove there’s a market for your work, no matter how lyrical your prose.
See ya’ll next month.