Storytelling is simple, right? I’m kidding.
Listen. Cathleen is reflecting on stories of the Hudson River told by her lover:
O the world is a series of stories, she thought, a gap in the wall, windows in windows, everything linked, the whole ball strung with unnoticed silk.
Stories gain us admission to the withins within; and connect everything.
But when Noah thinks of stories, it’s different. He thinks about telling Cathleen about the French woman:
It was . . . barely possible to tell the smallest thing before a story seemed to melt away. You would begin certain that there was so much to say and then, not halfway in, find yourself already there . .
Well, they’re very different people—poet and lawyer.
It’s more than personality. It’s about the essence of storytelling. Some stories reach out into the world’s body and knit it all together. Some distill the world into droplets. In this novel that counterpoint of expansion and concentration is masterfully handled.
Liam’s going is the long line on which the smaller stories hang. Cathleen’s story of her old love affair spans her whole life as poet, wife and mother. Noah’s story of the French woman is too rich and beaded to expand. It comes to us as sips of slant wisdom. The most delicate of all the stories in this subtle novel belongs to the old widow Antoinette—not the story of her family and how she came to own the Cezanne, but her coy courtship of Noah, all the more filigreed because she knows well it is only a game.
No. All the stories merge, not in a traditionally knotted ending but in a series of images. Here is one—Cathleen home from taking Liam to college, Noah home from his fay tryst with Antoinette, the apple orchard lover and the French woman submerged. The couple are bedded.
She would lift the sheet up in a billow like a sail, settling it over them again . . . They would hold each other and moan for their lost baby, their son set sail across the mountains.
A beautiful book.