• Bridge Ladies

    Bridge Ladies Sometimes I think a meteor could strike the earth and wipe out mankind with the exception of my mother’s Bridge club — Roz, Bea, Bette, Rhoda, and Jackie — five Jewish octogenarians who continue to gather for lunch and Bridge on Mondays as they have for over fifty years. When I set out to learn about the women behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, and most of all the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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Endless Rain Into a Paper Cup

I finished reading the fourth draft of a novel this weekend. It was amazing to see, even at this stage, where the writer held fast to her vision and where she was willing to make some radical changes. As well as many small changes. And how those small changes changed everything. I’ve always nursed a pet theory that writers exaggerate about how much they revise, how much they throw out, and how much editing they actually take. Put another way, there’s revising your work and playing with your food. Reader, this writer revised.

I was weeping at the end of this book. The power of it caught me off guard. Every moment in the novel found its fulfillment in the last seven pages. It was like watching a master chess player dominate the board in a series of swift, confident moves. What is the sound of a marble King falling upon a marble board. I reread those pages again, slower the second time, looking for the sleight of hand, the bouquet up her sleeve, the doves released. How the hell did she do it?

I will always be a sucker for this: for words to take me away from me as they console me, to make me forget myself and remind me who I am, to be trustworthy and manipulative, to seduce and destroy, to implicate and complicate, to come alive. When a writer does all this, and when I have had the privilege of clocking it, I am reminded of why, even after years of sweeping shit, I’ll never leave show business.

19 Responses

  1. That sounds like every writer’s dream. 🙂 You will tell us the title and author of this book when it’s published, yes? Please?

  2. What a fantastic way to describe the best writing. It’s full of all those dichotomies, just as we all are. Then, when you see the weak, mean-spirited, disloyal characters change into a people worthy of liking and loving, it has the power to make you stand up and yell out in joy.
    Your thoughts here on great writing, inspire me to write, just as your book, Forest for the Trees also does.

  3. Inspired writing.

    I bet the novel’s good, too.

  4. When we reread books we love, it’s often the lines we go for, certain phrases, a piece of dialogue, a metaphor, even a magnificent word that’s perfectly placed (case in point: in Jane Hirshfield’s Always She Reads the Same Translation, the narrator returns again and again to the same ” poem–/or in the end, three words of it, just three–/” and you know just what she means. I would read a 600 page book all over again if it had the right three words in it).

    But the act of rereading is really about seeking to recapture what your post today describes so well: not the words themselves but the feelings they (who knows exactly how?) inspire in us. We get addicted to the emotions: surprise, awe, relief, hope. And even on a third reading, a fourth, a tenth, even when you know how it ends, when there can be no surprises, great writing can make you feel things as if for the first time. If anything, feeling them second time round only adds to the depth, the satisfaction of knowing you’re in the hands of a master. Every reader wants to be in that state.

    Maybe great writing is when we can’t figure out what’s going on under the bonnet? Maybe the joy of rereading is thinking you might – just this once – get closer to understanding how they did it, knowing that if that doesn’t happen, you won’t even feel disappointed, but elated?

    • Jane is a brilliant writer. I don’t write poetry but I study her for that exact reason: to learn how to find and place the exact word. It doesn’t matter if it’s one word in 30 or one word in 100,000.

      I read a lot of contemporary fiction and I tried to think of something where I’d had the reaction Betsy describes. The first–and so far only–one that comes to mind is The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. I know a lot of people disagree, especially writers, but every single word in that book leads perfectly to the last pages. It’s the hardest part of writing for me. I’ve been trying to find the exact right last pages for my novel for months.

  5. Great. Now I’m totally jealous of her and I don’t even know her name.

  6. Love the photo. I’m the fetus on the right, outside the shot looking in.

  7. What a great post, reminding me to embrace revision.

    I am curious about something. After repeated reads, does it ever become difficult to judge the material?


  8. Very nice. The last time I wept like that during the final pages was with A Fine Balance.

  9. For me it was Never Let Me Go. Sobbed and could barely turn the last few pages.

  10. I, too, was crying this weekend, this past Saturday afternoon, listening to Martha Plimpton sing Thunder Road on Kurt Anderson’s radio program (360). I hadn’t had a drink in a WEEK so my nerves were a little fragile but still: It was a lot like listening to a great novel, the way Martha sang that story of [whatever Thunder Road is about…loss of youth? redemption? cars?].

    Otherwise, I don’t cry over novels, not having read one since I read Atonement and, feeling used and kind of contaminated, I swore off novels for good. What can I say… I’m an anteater.

    The book whose masterful structure and voice made me (almost ) weep was Columbine. I read it two (three?) months ago and it’s still haunting me.

    • No novels? We need to stage an intervention. Did you only read self-impressed works of tragic masturbation? You can’t stop with -Atonement-. There’s gotta be something fun, charming, and just this side of twee to bring you in from the cold.

  11. Sounds like a book I need to get my hands on!

  12. no one ever fully atones

  13. What a lovely post.

  14. The Known World was the last novel that blew through my heart like that.

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