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They drove out from Denver away from the mountains, back onto the high plains: sagebrush and soapweed and blue grama and buffalo grass in the pastures, wheat and corn in the planted fields. On both sides of the highway were the gravel county roads going out away under the pure blue sky, all the roads straight as the lines ruled in a book, with only a few small isolated towns spread across the open country.
He sat and drank the beer and held his wife’s hand sitting out on the front porch. So the truth was he was dying. That’s what they were saying. He would be dead before the end of summer. By the beginning of September the dirt would be piled over what was left of him out at the cemetery three miles east of town. Someone would cut his name into the face of a tombstone and it would be as if he never was.
Charles Dubow explores what happens when we find ourselves discontent with what we have, and pursuing what we think we want, through his novel Indiscretion. It is a visceral novel, compelling from start to finish, as we are unable to pull ourselves away from the relationships between the youthful Claire, the Botticelli-like Maddy and National Book Award winning writer Harry which is told through the point of view of Walt, Maddy's childhood friend.
The novel is steamy, and sexy, but not in a meaningless Shades of Grey sort of way. Every word is intentional, put there to show us the effect of our choices not only on ourselves but on those we love. As my mother has said to me more than once, "Often our lives spin on a hair." She means that one chance encounter, one swift decision, can irrevocably change our lives forever. This novel shows us just that.
The poet A. E. Housman wrote of the “land of lost content,” and how he can never return to the place where he had once been so happy.
When I was younger, I greatly admired the poem’s sentiment because I was not old enough to realize how banal it was. The young invariably cherish their youth, incapable of imagining life past thirty. The notion that the past is more idyllic is absurd, however. What we remember is our innocence, strong limbs, physical desire. Many people are shackled by their past and are unable to look ahead with any degree of confidence because they not only don’t believe in the future, they don’t really believe in themselves.
But that doesn’t prevent us from casting a roseate glow over our memories. Some memories burn brighter, whether because they meant more or because they have assumed greater importance in our minds. Holidays blur together, snowstorms, swimming in the ocean, acts of love, holding our parents’ hands when we are very small, great sadnesses. But there is much we forget too. I have forgotten so much—names, faces, brilliant conversations, days and weeks and months, things I vowed never to forget, and to fill in the gaps, I conflate the past or make it up entirely. Did that happen to me or to someone else? Was that me who broke his leg skiing in Lech? Did I run from the carabinieri after a drunken night in Venice? Places and actions that seem so real can be entirely false, based purely on impressions of a story told at the time and then somehow subconsciously woven into the fabric of our lives.
After a while it becomes real.
I know most people find the beach restful and restorative, but some beaches have special healing powers. For me, this is that beach. It is a place I have explored since childhood, and I feel as comfortable here as I would in my own house. I tolerate the occasional intruder the way any host would but am always secretly glad to have the place to myself again. Put me down on a stretch of sand in the Caribbean or Maine, and I will certainly appreciate it, but it’s not quite the same thing. In some places the water’s too cold, or too warm, or too green. The shells are alien to me, the smells unfamiliar. But here it is perfect, and I will come here as happily in January as in August. There are few days I look forward to more than that first warm day when I feel brave and resolved enough to withstand the still-frigid temperatures and the only other creatures in the water are neoprene-clad surfers and the fish, and I dive into numbing, cleansing cold.
It took me a few chapters to settle into this debut novel, but once I got a handle on all the various characters (many of whom were possible suspects in the death of Ms. Neal), I couldn’t put it down, anxious to get back to my reading and trying to solve the crime as I went about my daily activities.Final Thoughts:
Still Life is not a hard-boiled thriller, but rather a gentle “drawing room” mystery in which the chief investigator relishes a warm café au lait and flaky croissant as he ponders the details of the crime, while enjoying the peacefulness of the village as dawn breaks.
Gamache is a likeable character, reminding me a little bit of John Sandford’s Lucas Davenport (although, not quite the womanizer and much more well-read). I have a feeling Gamache and Inspector Jean Guy Beauvoir will become another favorite duo and I look forward to Penny’s next installment (Dead Cold), due out next spring.