Thursday, December 01, 2005

I had never before heard of Richard Hughes, but this piece by John Crowley in the new Boston Review sent me to the shelf here at the Bookery to read the first chapter of A High Wind in Jamaica (which in other editions has the subtitle, "The Innocent Voyage"). It as remarkable as Crowley claims for its unerring depiction of childhood innocence in its true, unsentimental sense—an innocence that does not preclude cruelty. The prose is vivid and dreamlike at once, as in this description of a Jamaican earthquake:
The water of the bay began to ebb away, as if some one had pulled up the plug: a foot or so of sand and coral gleamed for a moment new to the air: then back the sea rushed in miniature rolers which splashed right up to the feet of the palms. Mouthfuls of turf were torn away: and on the far side of the bay a small piece of cliff tumbled into the water: sand and twigs showered down, dew fell from the trees like diamonds: birds and beasts, their tongues at last loosed, screamed and bellowed: the ponies, though quite unalarmed, lifted up their heads and yelled.
What an extraordinary pair of sentences! In richness and the territory covered Hughes' chapter reminds me inevitably of Peter Pan (darker, as I recall, in its original form than in the Disney or stage versions—and similarly obsessed with "Good form," an extra-moral sort of discipline or style aspired to by Captain Jas. Hook); and I also suspect it was in the back of the mind of Mark Richard when he wrote a gorgeously grotesque novel called Fishboy, one of the last pieces of fiction I remember inspiring me when I myself was trying to write fiction in the mid-nineties (only ten years ago: is't possible?). Encountering now this hallucinatory prose, in back of which is the most mature and comprehensive understanding of the human and inhuman longings that can possess and drive us, makes me think of writing fiction again. But it will probably have to wait for a few years. The habits of poetry are not so easily overthrown, presuming such is needful. Poetry should, as an experience, part of the foreground, change prose—but how exactly remains to be seen.

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