Raw edges. Holes in the middle one can peek through. Burned pieces sifted through. Having just finished Abigail Thomas’ latest book, Still Life at Eighty, she once again confirms to me she is a crusty broad. “I write to see what the back of my mind is doing while I’m doing nothing.” What she does is write. A lot. Now at eighty-two, I hope she has something more for us readers. She says when something catches her eye or keeps cropping up, she writes. These bits and pieces don’t have to get dressed up for the occasions because she explains she is distilling, not decorating. She flat out writes what she is figuring out or figured out, or just plain excepted. I so admire her jagged quality and her style is considered to be passionate and with unwavering honesty.
Her go-to is The American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots. In one of her short chapters, entitled Death, she goes to this book when she is stumped with a word. She describes what she finds, or thinks she finds because she can’t find her glasses and the light is dim. For a brief ecstatic moment, she thinks dead evolved from the verb flow, to rise in a cloud. She thinks how fun to open a window and evaporate like a mist. She then puts on her glasses and discovers she mistook dheu2 for dheu3 and writes, ‘…damn it, dead has always been just dead. Of course, it has. Dead is dead is dead and there is no story here…one day I will be as dead as a doornail, and what will that be like? Well, I’ll be dead. Dead is an ugly word. I don’t mind death, it rhymes with breath, even if it’s the last.’ Crusty.
Another favorite is Jim Harrison. I saw a movie made in 1990, Revenge, based on a story by Jim Harrison. This movie is crusty, raw, and jagged. A romantic thriller tragedy starring Kevin Costner, Madelin Stowe, and Anthony Quinn. James Gammon (Major League; Nash Bridges) plays the crustiest character I have seen in a very long time. For many years I searched in every possible bookstore, online, even called the Chamber of Commerce in Patagonia, Arizona where Jim lived part of the time to write. I figured I could weasel my way into a meet. He was still alive and writing, one of which, The English Major, 2008, is on my desk to read next. More years passed and each time I watched the movie my desire to have this book would flare up and a search continued. I wanted to read the ‘written story’, not the Hollywood version.
One day in early 2021 while reading a newsletter online, novellas are mentioned along with Jim Harrison’s name and a book entitled, Legends of the Fall, which contained three novellas of his. On Amazon, I opened the look inside, and the first story is Revenge. All these years I thought Revenge was a stand-alone novel, not a novella hidden away among two other short stories. I was ecstatic, just as Abagail must have been when she thought she would float away. (PS – novellas are beginning to be of great interest in my writing world).
Both of these superb authors have influenced my thoughts on writing. As in Abigail (memoir), who writes through the confusion for clarity to find meaning when meaning is hard to come by, and Jim (fiction) who nails nuances of character and honest complexities of storytelling.
These two are darn, good crusty writers.