Monday, September 5, 2011

A Winter Moon and Rocky Ford Cantaloupe: Setting as Character in the Work of William Goyen

The fairy fields of William Goyen
On a recent visit to a cubbyhole of a bookstore, a bring and buy kind of place where books of every vintage are crammed into every space like odd bits in a junk drawer, I found a gem: Selected Writings of William Goyen.

Never heard of William Goyen? I hadn't either. That's the fun of old bookstores and finds like this. if you're looking to learn how to write setting, here's a writer who truly made it a character, as he did in his first novel, The House of Breath, published in 1950 and an elegy to growing up in Texas that begins thus:

"O Charity! Every frozen morning for awhile in early winter you had a thin little winter moon slung like a slice of silver Rocky Ford cantaloupe over the sawmill; and then I would go out to the well in the yard and snap off the silver thorns of ice from the pump muzzle and jack up the morning water and stand and look over across the fairy fields at you where you lay like a storybook town …"

There is everything right about this sliver of Goyen's work. Charity, akin to Goyen's hometown of Trinity, is personified in writing that's alive, vivid, evocative and detailed you can feel Charity like a presence in the room, as Goyen must have felt it. How many details in this portrait of a place can you find?  

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