Wednesday, November 4, 2009

another letter to M --

[circa 1959]

Dear M --

I saw Irving read in New York the other night, and I was disappointed there weren’t more people in the audience but Irving seemed relieved there were at least some in the audience. I went with Carolyn. He read from his new novel and he gave a good reading though I could tell at one point he wished he’d worn his sweat band as he was having trouble under the hot light. I believe his wife was with him. Before his reading Irving told me about the wonderful thrift shops in the Village, and that I didn’t know how good I had it – in terms of thrift shops. And then Harry showed up and he and Irving chatted. And then some woman who was very pleased with herself gave the introduction, I thought she was very enamored by the sound of her own voice. She seemed to go on a little too long, first talking about how she felt ‘betrayed’ or something like that when she learned Irving had written a memoir as she was such an admirer of his fiction. Then she proceeded to talk about Irving’s index card method,and how greatly she admired this method, and I thought but that is pure fiction, everyone knows it is, so what are you going on about. Irving looked as if he’d lost weight, he looked healthier certainly than the first time I saw him up close, which was on the plane back from Vermont as he headed to Minneapolis, we shared the flight to Detroit where we would then go our separate ways. Irving looked to be in considerable discomfort, flushed and his breathing slightly labored. But when I saw him last week he looked, as I said, so healthy. And in high spirits. People asked questions. He answered buoyantly. He laughed, was self-deprecating. He told how easy it was for him to give up characters once the book was over. During the writing of his book, however, he could think of nothing else but his characters. His immersion was that deep into their lives, their psyches. Another question was asked. He told how he hardly ever reads Nabokov anymore as he spent so much time on his work for many years, read all of it and at such a level of intense involvement, so that he now felt no need to return. He was pleased that Nabakov had gone on posthumously to have such a fine writing career. Everyone laughed at that. There were other questions. A tall man with a scraggly beard, long hair and floppy hat asked some stupid question that people ask when they simply want to hear their own voices: “What time of day do you prefer to compose sentences in?” Or something like that. I didn’t like him as I often see him around town, mostly in the Café House; he smells badly, and slurps his tea very loudly. He sprawls his long legs in a way that disgusts me. He isn’t good looking at all, though he has the arrogance of someone who is. I don’t remember exactly what he asked. I wish I did. No, no. I don’t. It wasn’t that bad a question because Irving gave a good answer and made it seem like the best kind of question someone might ask. You know the kind of wonderful grace that Irving can display, suddenly and unexpectedly; he is such a wonderful speaker. Then it was over and Carolyn bought a book for Irving to sign, I had my own copy of the book which he also signed. Irving said to Carolyn, “But you don’t have to buy a copy, James already bought one.” And Carolyn said to Irving, “I know. James doesn’t like to share his books”. Irving replied, “Really! So James doesn’t like to share books? I find that very interesting!” Carolyn: “No, no he doesn’t like to share his books.” Of course I am standing right there, “That isn't entirely fair." Carolyn says to Irving: “He has a lot of secrets like that.” Or something to that effect. Irving chuckled to himself as he wrote a very nice comment in Carolyn’s book. Then it was time to leave I asked where they might be going, and Irving invited us along but for some reason I thought he’d prefer to be alone with Harry and their guests. Now I wish I’d accepted the invitation. It was cold that night. Kind of gloomy. I hate leaving people behind. I hate not knowing what to do. The next day I was in the store and Alice came up to me and asked if Irving was disappointed with the poor turn-out. “No. I don’t think so. Maybe a little. Irving was happy for the chance to visit the city.” This seemed to confuse Alice, for some reason she thought Irving lived in the city and had a place in the country. Then Alice had to answer a telephone call. Conversation over.

I wish I had more to tell. But I live so quietly. Like a church mouse. Or a mole. However, this you might find of some interest, from a psychological perspective. I was in the backyard, doing yard work. There is always so much to do. I had been clearing brush, using a machete. I paused and saw something moving in the grass. I went up close. To inspect. Thinking it might be a snake or even a cat. It was only a mole. For no reason I kicked at it hard with the toe of my work boot. Just like that I killed it. Then I went back to chopping as if nothing had happened.

Someone should send me a big sack of money. I worry about money a lot these days. I worry about my teeth.

Best wishes,


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