Erudite Mondays at HalfSoled Boots
Volume 2, Number 4
I saw this book on the sidebar of January One, quite a while ago, and thought it looked interesting. This is because I routinely judge books by their covers.
I asked at the local bookshop about the title, and was told that they could try to get it in, but they probably would not succeed. I said "Don't bother, then, since I don't even know if I want to read it". Sadly, their customer service was too good and a few months later the phone rang: hey presto! they had it. The book was waiting for me to pick it up.
The problem with this particular store is that they have a "restocking charge" for special orders that are not wanted after all. I stood in the shop, turning the paperback over and over in my hand, repeatedly glancing at the $23 price tag, trying to decide whether to submit to the restocking charge, try to get out of it by shifting blame onto them for ordering it, or suck it up and take the chance on the unknown book, by an unknown author. After five minutes or so my mother, exasperated, grabbed the book and threw it on the counter, cast me a fulminating glance, and bought it for me.
The story is set in small-town Illinois, 1912, and is primarily concerned with events in and around a small family during one year. It's a novel of characters, really - the plot events are only secondary to the central conflicts. I like this kind of book very much. It's so very interesting to witness and dissect humanity in all its pathos.
The beginning is quite promising. The opening scene is one between husband and wife, behind their closed bedroom door shortly before an extended family party. Their conversation is intimate, but uneasy. I found myself taking sides right away. This was strange - usually it takes me a few chapters to get to know characters, to understand their motivations and to care about their fate. Time Will Darken It hooked me in right at the start.
The book is strongly visual. It seems to me that writers of that era (this one was published in 1948) spent a lot of attention, time and words on the scene: I often notice that when reading a novel from the mid-20th century, I'm left with a strong sensory impression. When you're reading Time Will Darken It, you can see the prairie grass, feel the shimmering heat, hear the step on the stairs. If I ever found myself in whichever midwest town inspired Draperville, I should recognise it right away.
From the first few chapters, I thought I was reading a certain book. Then, with the turn of one particular page, I found that I was reading a different one entirely. It's like when you are on the lake in August, just off the beach where women are chatting and children playing, lying on an air mattress with your fingers trailing in the water. Eyes are closed against the sun, sand drying on your knees, the breeze drifts you along in an endless moment of warmth. All of a sudden you come back to yourself, realise the voices have faded away and the wind has picked up. You open your eyes to find you've drifted all the way out past the bay and now you're right over the deep, black, cool water and you've maybe got an unpleasant swim ahead of you.
I like sudden plunges into shocking cold. I like feet of clay that eventually crumble. I like the fly in the ointment, the twist in the tale.
And I think I'm going to be ordering some more William Maxwell books.