After the Flood

I went to a wedding in New York this weekend, and along the way to and from stopped in Brattleboro, Vermont to see Nick Mamatas, his partner in crime, Eli, and their wonder-dog, Kazzie. I had intended to go to various events at the Brattleboro Literary Festival, but only made it to one panel. Nick, thankfully, made it to a few more, and has already chronicled the experience. (Yes, they both fell asleep seconds after Sven Birkerts began talking. I was standing, and though I am entirely capable of sleeping while standing, I somehow managed to stay awake as Birkerts spent most of his time telling us how hard it was to come up with a specific element of Saul Bellow's work to discuss, because Bellow was, of course, both Shakespeare and The Beatles, and so, Birkerts told us, pinning down the specific elements of Bellow's style is a difficult task, an impossible task, really, and in the few minutes allotted to him, the minutes that he had said he would use to discuss Bellow's style, which is, of course, a copious subject, and one that doesn't fit well into minutes, because Bellow was a master, one of the greatest, a writer who has meant very much to Sven Birkerts, possibly more than any writer, and much of that has to do with his style, but what aspect of his style should he address, he wondered, given that he could say so much, and so, finally, having told us that Bellow's style was a great human accomplishment, and that it had meant so much to him, Sven Birkerts, because its rhythms are unlike any others, and every great while a Bellow comes along to grace our lives, except there was only one Bellow, and his style was indescribably broad while also stunningly specific, which of course was obvious to us all, utterly self-evident, truly true, as Sven Birkerts read a few passages from one of the books, which he would have liked to have read more from, but there wasn't time, even though Saul Bellow meant so much to him, Sven Birkerts, who smiled after reading the passages. And then was done.)

We were all impressed to some extent, though, by Alan Lelchuk's remembrance of Bellow; it was direct, specific, and amusing. In the quick Q&A afterward, someone asked about V.S. Naipaul's assertion of the death of the novel, and Birkerts said that, well, of course, that was difficult subject, one that deserved study and thought, and he was wrestling with it himself in a new essay, one he hoped would show the possible vitalities of the novel in the current age, and of course Bellow was important to this, central, indeed, because he meant so much to Sven Birkerts. Lelchuk said the novel is declared dead every ten years, Naipaul's pronouncement was narrow-minded and silly, and nobody should bother to pay attention to it.

We had lunch at a cafe beside the Connecticut river and watched all sorts of debris floating down it, because of torrential rains on Friday and Saturday. Someone said a dam had burst at Bellows Falls. Trees and boards and white boxes that looked like washing machines or refrigerators bobbed and swirled through the water. It usually takes me two hours or so to drive back home from Brattleboro, but I go through Keene, New Hampshire, and just as I got to routes 9 and 10, I saw a long line of traffic and a lot of police cars. Eventually, a state trooper walked up, I rolled down my window, and he said, "Where are you trying to get to?" "Concord," I said, since I needed to get there to go north to home. "All these roads are closed," he said. "You'll need to turn around, go back through Vermont, up 91, then over to Lebanon, where you can pick up 89."

"You're kidding, right?" I said, inadvertently.

"No sir," he replied, with an unstated Do I LOOK like I'm kidding?! hanging in the air.

Since I'm taking classes at Dartmouth right now, I know the Lebanon and Hanover areas well, and also knew then that they were about an hour away from where I was, and were entirely north, when what I really needed was to go northeast. I turned around, but was determined not to go back to Vermont, so I weaved my way through various back roads until finally I got to New London, then drove the back way home from there. All along the way, one road after another was closed. It took me about four hours. When I got back, my mother had left a message on my answering machine, saying she hoped I would be home before midnight or so, since the entire Keene area had been flooded. I checked for news on the internet, and, sure enough, both WMUR and The Union Leader were reporting catastrophes and deaths. It made the debris we'd seen in the Connecticut seem less odd, more eerie, more sad.

(By the way, Nick alluded to an idea we came up with that will change not only the nature of all blogging as we know it, but probably alter the entire socio-economic balance of the world. I'll try to figure out the details this week and get it started, because I know you've all been waiting, refreshing this page constantly, hoping against hope for ... something. Well, hang in there. The first half of this week is tremendously busy for me, but I should have some time by the end of the week to begin fixing all the problems in the known universe. Until then, we'll probably just have a guest review that I'm currently proofreading.)

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