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Birchbark Blog

Brief lives, long books

Louise Erdrich - Tuesday, December 18, 2007
This morning my daughter was late to school -- cause listed on the sign-in sheet "severe maternal inertia". There was not room on the sheet to continue, "as the result of trying to finish The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Diaz". So I just wrote "literary hangover." I was up too late, but that's what a richly thronged and impeccably written book will do.

I also had to finish A Shadow in the City, Charles Bowden, a non-fiction-fiction-crossed portrait of an undercover narc, before I could be useful or attentive to anything else in this life. There is a great deal of violence in the book, but mainly it is that hardest thing to write -- emotional violence. A man's work becomes betrayal, and then betrayal becomes self betrayal. A portrait of a man becoming alive to the truth of his singed existence.

The amnesia of Xmas has erased about two weeks since I wrote the two paragraphs above. I just sat down at my computer again (actually, my daughter's phenomenal Cube, the T-Bird of computers) and realized that I had not posted these comments.

Astoundingly, the world of Charles Bowden exists in the same dimension as the world of Brother Benet Tvedten and Blue Cloud Abbey. Driving to North Dakota from Sioux Falls in late December, we took an exit off I-29 and stopped in fresh snow to visit the abbey. Brother Benet autographed one of his books for us -- The View From A Monastery. As it is the first book I've read in the new year, I hope that some of what it contains -- gentle humor, hard-won tolerance, grounded spirituality, will rub off on me. I imagine that many people visit the monks and priests at the abbey hoping that a bit of transcendence and peace will rub off there, too. Few can stay. The abbey is both lively and echoing with the portraits of lives in the book -- vexed, funny, joyous, ordinary and yet marvelous.

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