A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood
I'm glad I found this book on week 49 of my Book a Week, because if I'd found it earlier I'm not sure I would have continued.
Yes, it's that good. I could say I loved this book, but that's not nearly enough. Let me try again.
I've read forty-eight other books this year, and with each of them I thought that I could do just as good as the author and in some cases much, much better. Not once did I read a book and think 'man... I'm not sure I could do this.' Until I read 'A Single Man.' That's how good this book is.
This book is almost fifty years old, published in 1964. Christopher Isherwood, the author, died back in 1986. But this book could have been written now, it's that relevant and that timeless. Mr. Isherwood was a British expat, gay, living in Los Angeles, and teaching writing at CSULA. His protagonist George is a British expat, gay, living in Los Angeles, and teaches writing at a university. The story is a day in George's life, which the author slowly reveals to be both less than what George wants and more than he expects. George is trying to keep going after his partner, Jim, has been killed in a traffic accident. In today's terms George is depressed, and doesn't realize it. Or doesn't care. He goes through his life with little relish, aside from what small amount of joy he gets from being around the young people he teaches.
Sounds boring? Far, far, from it. This is prose the way prose should be. Always. The author has an eye for detail and interpretation that make his words pop. And his insights are genuine. Every page has an amazing tidbit. Every single page. Let me share one or two:
- It's just that George is like a man trying to sell a real diamond for a nickel on the street. The diamond is protected from all but a precious few, because the great hurrying majority can never dare stop to believe that it could conceivably be real.
- All the middleman wants are its products, its practical applications. These professors are suckers, he says. What's the use of knowing something if you can't make money out of it? And the glum ones more than half agree with him and feel privately ashamed of not being smart and crooked.
- Oh, the bloody battles and sidewalk vomitings! The punches flying wide, the heads crashing backwards against the fenders of parked cars! Huge diesel-dikes slugging it out, far grimmer than the men. The siren-wailing of the police; the sudden swoopings of the shore patrol.
I wish every English major would read this book. I wish every writer would read this book. I wish you would read this book. Right now.
It was Hemingway who said 'All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know.'
'A Single Man' is a book made up entirely of true sentences.
Brown Dog by Jim Harrison
I hope I am not doing a disservice to Mr. Harrison by reading his book after 'A Single Man.' I'll keep an open mind.