Following the inner life of one man over the course of nearly forty years, a tender tale of faith, obsession, and enduring love follows the remarkable relationship between Paul, a precocious observer of human life, and Laura Petit, a gifted and independent poet nine years older than Paul. By the award-winning author of Montana 1948. 25,000 first printing.
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Larry Watson was born in Rugby, North Dakota, and raised in Bismarck. Honored with the Milkweed National Fiction Prize, a National Endowment of the Arts award, the Mountains & Plains Bookseller Association Regional Book Award, and numerous other literary prizes, Watson teaches English at the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point. He is the author of Laura, White Crosses, Justice, Montana 1948, In a Dark Time, and the poetry collection Leaving Dakota.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
In the summer of 1955 New England lay shimmering under one of the worst heat waves of the century. But don't try to verify this in any of the weather annals. No, this heat was intolerable not because of record-setting temperatures but because of what seemed like an unending succession of sweltering days. Swimming pools that summer were so swarming with people you couldn't swim a stroke, and beaches were so littered with bodies you couldn't walk fast enough to let the air move around you. Movie theaters, because they advertised their air-conditioning in icy blue letters, did record business, and stores that sold Popsicles, electric fans, or cold beer were certain to sell out. If you lived in a city and could leave, you left.
In 1955 my family was one of the lucky ones who could escape. My father, Robert Finley, was an editor at Harrison House, and he was not often required to be in his office during the summer. He frequently brought his work home to read and edit anyway. My mother, Doreen, taught English at Westcott College for Women -- as it was called then -- and always had the summer off. So, after the middle of June, when my sister, Janie, and I finished our week of French camp, our family headed for the cool green hills of Vermont and left behind our fellow Bostonians, stuck to the city and each other with their own sweat. That summer Janie was eight and I was eleven.
In Vermont we rented a large old Victorian house with a huge front porch that tilted toward New Hampshire. The house was in the middle of an empty, sun-struck field, and less than fifty yards away a stagnant pond steamed and stunk in the heat, but my sister and I were forbidden to mention the smell. Trees were ringed all around us, but not one was within a hundred yards of the house. Standing stupidly by itself, the house looked as if everything had been warned away from it.
My parents' friends, however, certainly heard no warning, for they came visiting in droves. From New York or Boston or Philadelphia, they ran toward Vermont and us like animals that know the forest is burning behind them. When they arrived at our house, they put down their bags, sighed, smiled, and set themselves to days and nights of unrelieved, slightly hysterical, drunken recreation.
Most of my mother's and father's friends were writers, artists, and intellectuals, and many of them were younger than my parents. The few who were married were childless. That naturally made Janie and me curiosities, yet still figures to whom obeisance had to be paid. These were people who worshipped the spirit of youth, if not children themselves. So when the visitors arrived that summer, they brought toys, games, or sporting equipment for us. The problem, however, was that these gifts quickly found their way into the hands of the adults. Late into the night they sat around the kitchen table and played with Janie's Chinese checkers; they used my football in the early evening touch football games; in the heat of the afternoon women and men pulled lawn chairs up to the small blue inflatable wading pool Avis Holman brought for us and sat with their feet in the water and sweating gin-and-tonics in their hands; they played badminton with our rackets and croquet with our mallets; three of my baseballs were hit into the pond; and others put as many miles on our bicycles as we did.
In the midst of all those adults having so much fun, Janie and I were never exactly sure of what to do. We were not invited to join in, and it was clear our presence would be inhibiting. Nothing makes adults more self-conscious about playing children's games than children standing on the sidelines watching.
So how did Janie and I behave that summer? Both of us were, to begin with, inclined toward silence and seriousness, and to that part of our natures we drifted even further. Janie began to lower her gaze (my memory of her is always of her walking with her head down), looking away from the faces of people and down to the earth's surface, to the grasses, plants, weeds, and wildflowers growing there. I, on the other hand, developed and practiced a skill that I continued to sharpen in all the years after: I watched others while trying to remain unnoticed myself.
But all this is backdrop and stage-setting, my attempt to set the time and place of that season's essential occurrence: in the summer of 1955 I met Laura Coe Pettit, and the moment of that meeting was the one from which I began a measurement of time. Clocks and calendars can try to convince us that time always passes in equal measure, but we know better. Our thirty-fifth summer passes five times faster than our seventh, and for years my life speeded up or slowed down according to my meetings with or departures from Laura.
In our rented house my bedroom was right over the kitchen, the room where my parents and their partying friends always ended up because it was the one room where air moved -- the night breeze from the north blew in through the small window over the sink, fluttered the lace curtains, and fanned out through the big, brightly lit space before traveling out the screen door and past the porch where those people who couldn't fit in the kitchen sat. The scene was always noisy; a porch-sitter would tell a story loudly enough so a cupboard leaner could hear it. Laughter was constant, and ranged from one man's slow bass "huh-huh-huh" (a sound like heavy boots climbing the basement stairs) to a woman's staccato, soprano "ih-ih-ih-ih" (a giggle that reminded me of a birdcall). After the phonograph was moved into the kitchen, it never returned to the living room. Beer bottles clinked, glasses rattled, ice tinkled, the refrigerator door opened and closed, and I did my best to sleep through it all. So why, if I could sleep through that commotion, would someone's silence wake me?
When I opened my eyes she was standing in front of my window, gazing out toward the pond. She was smoking a cigarette, and as she exhaled, the smoke billowed through the screen so it looked as though the night were steaming right outside my window.
Though I tried not to, I must have made a sound -- a whisper of sheets as I jerked awake or perhaps my snoring stopped -- and she turned to me quickly and said, "Please. Don't tell anyone I'm here." Her voice had that low, reedy sound of exhaustion in it.
Her request was so urgent I immediately told her I wouldn't say anything, though I didn't know whom I could tell even if I wanted to.
"The door wasn't locked," she said. "I just ducked in here to get away from the party awhile. I thought I could hide here without bothering anyone. I didn't mean to wake you."
I was afraid, but I knew I wasn't threatened, so my fear was the type that people -- children, especially -- feel in the presence of something that mystifies and confuses them. And, of course, I couldn't go back to sleep, so I lay quietly in bed and tried to study this person who had found her way into my bedroom. The moon shone on that warm, clear night, and my narrow, floor-to-ceiling window let in enough light for me to get a look at her.
It's difficult for children to judge someone's height (every adult is tall) without standing next to that person or seeing him or her in a group, but by the way she was framed in my window I could see she was not much more than five feet. I could also tell she was extraordinarily pale because she wore a white shirt and both the shirt and her face had the same bluish-white luminescence in the moonlight. The sleeves of the shirt were rolled to her elbows. Her dark hair was very short, and with the hand not holding the cigarette she ruffled her hair over and over again, a motion so agitated and methodical it seemed she was trying to work an unpleasant thought out of her mind. I couldn't see her features clearly, but I could tell they were small and fine. If it weren't
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Book Description Pocket Books, NY, 2000. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. Dust Jacket Condition: New. 1st Edition. This is a New and Unread copy of the first edition (1st printing). Book. Bookseller Inventory # 039542
Book Description Atria, 2000. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. book. Bookseller Inventory # M0671567748
Book Description Atria, 2000. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. Never used!. Bookseller Inventory # P110671567748