I have been reading Terrence Holt's story collection, In the Valley of the Kings. I bought the book after learning that Holt is Junot Diaz's favorite author ("There is no one in the wide sea of English who writes like him [as far as I know]; no one who is so profound and mysterious, so searingly human and so implacably apocalyptic..."). The stories grabbed me very quickly, and I mean this literally; I felt variously as though the air was being pressed out of me, and that I was being cast to the void. Holt wrote and taught writing before enrolling in medical school; he is currently a practicing physician. But to state that last seems redundant: Holt in both his guises is telling us what is going on here and in "realms outside the scope of ordinary existence." It is overly self-laudatory but I will write it anyway: I keep seeing similarities to what informs Holt's stories and some in Transportation, particularly the title story.
Tonight I read Barry Lopez's "Silver of Sky," which appears as memoir in the January issue of Harper's. It's behind a pay-wall but go ahead and subscribe, it's $16.95. What Lopez has written had to be written and must be read. It's about the sexual abuse he experienced as a child; what does and does not happen when you do and do not expose the savagery. You will, I am sure, want, as did I, to grab Harry Shier by the throat, to shame him deeply, yes for what he did, and also for the compounding he was willing to do. And for what others, due to their own fears and rationalizations (cue Penn State anthem) are not willing to do. Lopez, a National Book Award winner and a friend, has thought long about this and writes the following:
A more obvious question I asked myself as I grew older was: How could my mother not have known? Perhaps she did, although she died, a few years after she was told, unwilling to discuss her feelings about what had gone on in California. I’ve made some measure of peace with her stance. When certain individuals feel severely threatened — emotionally, financially, physically — the lights on the horizon they use to orient themselves in the world might easily wink out. Life can then become a series of fear-driven decisions and compulsive acts of self-protection. People start to separate what is deeply troubling in their lives from what they see as good. To use the usual metaphor, they isolate the events from one another by storing them in different rooms in a large hotel. While these rooms share a corridor, they do not communicate directly with one another.
I’m not able, today, to put the image I have of my mother as her children’s attentive guardian together with the idea of her as an innocent, a person blinded by the blandishments of a persistent pedophile. But for whatever reason, she was not able, back then, to consider what might be happening in the hours after she saw Shier drive away, her son’s head, from her point of view on the porch, not quite clearing the sill of the car window as the two of them departed.
Reading one of these works in a week would be enough to knock one silent for a while. Reading both, today, made me need to tell you.