“He could not stomach a settled country where man’s worst trouble was combating small fears.”
One views the cover of this 1956 gem and might assume they’ve got yet another predictable formula novel in their hands, but au contraire there is magnificence inside.
In the first chapter O’Rourke has three strangers arrive in a small town. They are strangers to the town and strangers to each other. Over the course of the novel we follow them as their lives sometimes intersect and sometimes veer away from one another as they each seek their chances in life.
The strangers are a young man, a young woman, and an older man with some experience of the world behind him. We get to view the same town through the perspectives of these three disparate minds and be awake to things that some see and blind to things that inexperience or callowness renders us blind to.
Along the way O’Rourke drips authentic world experience on practically every page. Try the below samples on for size.
“She could scarcely believe such kindness, such generosity given so quickly. People in her world of yesterday saw one another not so much by the face but as though they peered into a mirror. They saw their own faces, they looked deeply and hoped, begged for just that: the mirror of kindness, of trust, as typified by their own faces which they prized above all. And when, in the mirror of their own minds, themselves lacking those sterling qualities, they found nothing, then they failed forever to see the kindness in others.”
“It was still bitter cold but the wind had died and the sky was clear, that huge blue-bowled liar above them, smiling down with its innocent sun face while below four feet of snow lay a multitude of unknown tragedies. He had taken the worst the land could offer and lived.”
“A man’s best recourse from sour memories was working mind and body, doing something that took all his time, exhausted him physically and mentally.”
O’Rourke seems an endless fount of incisive comment. It is for these comments and the realness of the humans involved that keeps us turning the pages. This little gem is easily one of my favorites of the past year’s reading.
Let’s end it with yet another one of O’Rourke’s priceless observations.
“Time could not stop, time changed all things, all thoughts and ideals, all ways and manners and living, so that remembering the past as the best was a foolish gesture offered to the wind. You might recall the past with fondness and some regret and a little thanks for all it had given, but you could not live in the past and do justice to the present. Time offered its gift of days to spend, you used the days and hoped for more, hoped you might live your fair share in good health and good luck and happiness.”
Amen to that!