Abandon Text!

W. H. Auden once said: "Poems are not finished; they are abandoned." I have been abandoning writing projects for many years, since only the pressure of deadline and high expectations ever got me to finish, or even start, anything of merit. This blog is an attempt to create a more consistent, self-directed writing habit. Hopefully a direction and voice will emerge.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Angela's Ashes

Janet and I listened to an abridgment of Frank McCourt's Angela's Ashes, read by the author, on our way to and from Brevard this weekend.

Normally, I find abridgments of any work with a narrative to be anathema, because the violence they do to a story to make it fit the average attention span is too great to bear. But I have discovered a few valid exceptions: massive works of non-fiction, and narratives which you aren't sure will be worth the effort. I had heard all the ballyhoo around Angela's Ashes and was therefore suspicious; anything liked so much by millions may have all the quality of The Celestine Prophesy or The Da Vinci Code. But I had heard interviews with Frank McCourt that made me like the man, so when Janet suggested it, I was game.

O my God . . . what a wonder. I have never read a memoir so remarkable, so engaging and literary. No work of fiction could give better characters or scenes. Some thoughts:
  • I think a big factor in making McCourt's book so popular was his writing style. His sentences are short, his descriptions brief. All the strength of the book is in his selection of the detail. He doesn't have to spend pages and pages describing Limerick; he makes you feel like you're there in a heartbeat.
  • It's remarkable to see how the crushing poverty that McCourt grew up in was primarily self-inflicted (if you accept, for the time being, that his father was capable of controlling his drinking.) As decrepit as Ireland's economy was, any bloke could feed his family and have a little left over if he just worked his job and brought the wages home. It was The Drink that left them starving, and nothing else. I have to wonder how much that is true in other desperate circumstances . . . if we took away substance abuse and armed conflict, how much poverty would really be left?
  • Having been steeped in Unconditional Parenting for the last few weeks, I have no trouble understanding how a parent can love their child, in spite of what they might do or who they may become. So it surprised me (but maybe it shouldn't) to see that the converse is just as true: a child will love his father, regardless of how much of a useless drunk he is.
  • There is a magical quality to McCourt's tone that allows him to show the darkest tragedies and cruelties of life without appearing harsh or bitter. That quality, I think, is Compassion. I used to think, when I was younger and more "hardened righteous", that Love was a squishy virtue and not very compatible with a desire for the Truth. Now I am coming to see that you need an extraordinary amount of Love for the world to truly see it.


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