American Fantastic Tales: Terror and the Uncanny from the 1940s to Now

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“The Lesson” by George Tooker

Rarely do I read every story in an anthology, so I am quite pleased that I did just that — all forty-two stories, all six hundred and eighty-four pages. But it’s more than just the pleasure of accomplishment; there is also the pleasure of revisiting old friends and making some intriguing new acquaintances.

This book is volume 2 of editor Peter Straub’s survey of American fantasy. An excellent writer himself (as evidenced here with the unsettling “A Short Guide to the City”), he has a wide-ranging sensibility as an editor, bringing under the tent not just the grand masters of the genre like Ray Bradbury, Shirley Jackson, and Stephen King, but also virtuosos generally associated with high literary fiction — Nabokov, Cheever, Bowles, Capote.

The result is a series of almost uniformly well-crafted, beautifully written, and unusual pieces. I found a few to be tedious or lackluster, not to my taste. Among these were Joe Hill’s “Pop Art,” an exemplar of that kind of casual cruelty that crept into horror fiction in the wake of Stephen King and Ramsay Campbell. I also didn’t care for either Thomas Ligotti’s “The Last Feast of Harlequin” or Brian Evenson’s “The Wavering Knife”; these are throwbacks to the overwrought breathlessness of Poe and Lovecraft.

But the ones that did appeal hit deep and hard. Stephen King’s “That Feeling, You Can Only Say What It Is in French” (surely one of his best titles ever) had the deliciously disturbing effect of haunting my dreams, playing over and over to the point that I ultimately exorcised it by reading it aloud to Steve. My reaction to T.E.D. Klein’s deservedly famous novella “The Events at Poroth Farm” was to linger consciously in the story, reading it over several nights, so reluctant was I to leave his voice and the slowly unraveling world he created.

Craftsmen and artists doing what they do best. That was how I felt about the Michael Chabon (“The God of Dark Laughter”): a good story with interesting characters and a smart plot. I also felt that way about Nabokov’s “The Vane Sisters”: while the story itself was not quite satisfying, the language, the language! “Through peacocked lashes…” What a wonderful metaphor. And then his ability to cover so much ground in relatively few words:

…I felt that stab of vicarious emotion followed by a rush of personal irritation against travelers who seem to feel nothing at all upon revisiting spots that ought to harass them at every step with wailing and writing memories.

Although the Shirley Jackson (“The Daemon Lover”) and the Harlan Ellison (“I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream”) are not my favorites of their respective canons, they are still sturdy and representative of their gifts. I mean, Harlan’s title is the story’s punchline, if you will, and yet it still terrifies. But the Bradbury (“The April Witch”) has everything I love about his storytelling — even a familiar character, the magnificent, shape-changing Cecy from one of my very favorite stories, “Homecoming”: both stories are filled with careless longing, wistful imaginings, the inhuman informing and underscoring the joys and terrors of humanity’s great transitions.

A similar humanity imbues Fred Chappell’s “Linnaeus Forgets,” a lovely and moving story built around botanist Carl Linnaeus. And there is humanity, if frail and unforgiven, in the Tennessee Williams’s poetic “The Mysteries of the Joy Rio.”

A more sinister shape-shifter features in Paul Bowles’s “The Circular Valley.” The story is the dark mirror inversion of the warmth and promise and springtime of the Bradbury. Chilling and distant and yet too oddly empathetic.

Truman Capote offers up a truly satisfying, shivering-inducing, and beautifully written sardonic little ghost story in “Miriam.” Another satisfying and spooky and elegantly written tale is “Black Country” by Charles Beaumont. Equally satisfying and sardonic is Jane Rice’s wolfman take in “The Refugee.” Sardonic but damned is the tone and tenor of John Cheever’s haunting “Torch Song.” And sardonic and damned too are the improbable characters and circumstances of George Saunders’s “Sea Oak,” which also features laugh-out-loud narration in a not-too-distant dystopia peopled by the definite have-nots:

Min and Jade put down the babies and light cigarettes and pace the room while studying aloud for their GEDs. It doesn’t look good. Jade says “regicide” is a virus. Min locates Biafra one planet from Saturn… They debate how many sides a triangle has. They agree that Churchill was in an opera.

Several stories —  including Gene Wolfe’s “The Little Stranger” and Isaac Bashevis Singer’s “Hanka” — slowly unhinge along with their protagonists, leading the reader out of a familiar, solid, and grounded world into a suddenly dizzy, dreamy place of nightmare logic. Some stories float along and in the nightmare, like Straub’s own and Steven Millhauser’s “Dangerous Laughter.” Some stories just leave you stranded there in this place of madness — the most breathtaking example of that being the Kelly Link masterpiece, “Stone Animals.” Perhaps a short excerpt will give a taste of the off-kilter world Link creates; this is in the mind of the family’s fourth-grade daughter (throughout the long story, Link moves effortlessly shape-shiftingly from character to character, waking to dreaming):

Tilly never liked talking to people on the telephone. How were you supposed to know if they were really who they said they were? And even if they were who they claimed to be, they didn’t know whether you were who you said you were. You could be someone else. They might give away information about you, and not even know it. There were no protocols. No precautions.

And some stories lead you back out of the madness. The most beautiful and heart-wrenching of these is M. Rickert’s gemlike “The Chambered Fruit.” A horrific event has occurred — unlike the Link story, where the horrific is occurring — and the first-person narrator is reeling. But actually, the Rickert and the Link stories have much in common: in both, families are coming to terms with big upsets in their domestic day-to-day. And both authors use fantasy to illustrate how unmoored we become as we attempt to cope, floundering and thrashing about for a familiar foothold.

I hope I have conveyed a sense of the richness in this volume. I was so pleased to savor so much.

Mother of the Maid

The broad outlines of the Joan of Arc story are political. She came to the aid of a dispirited France during the Hundred Years War, crowning the Dauphin and inspiring the French to victory after her death as a martyr at English hands (National Geographic has a beautifully illustrated synopsis here). Hers is also a religious story: divinely sparked by saints, burned as a heretic, her innocence established by ecclesiastical tribunal, and canonized in 1920. And it is a feminist story, exciting and empowering little girls (as this list of children’s books demonstrates), and compelling actresses from Sarah Bernhardt to Ingrid Bergman and male artists from Shaw to Preminger; the London Telegraph notes that “the role of Saint Joan is considered the actress’s equivalent of Hamlet,” rightly pointing out that “each generation sees Saint Joan through the prism of its own moral preoccupations.”

Which brings me to Mother of the Maid, which we saw (thank you, Julie!) at the Public Theater on opening night. It stars Glenn Close, and is wonderfully acted and very moving and very smart. And here is the thing that makes this a retelling of the Joan legend for our time, and here is why it’s smart: it is not political, and it is not religious, and it is not particularly feminist. Instead, it’s a simple, relatively unadorned reminder of the urgent power of family.
Dermot Crowley and Glenn Close as Jacques and Isabelle Arc

I have read other reviews, and they tend to see this as a tour-de-force performance by Close in what is essentially an accessible vehicle — a sentimental weepy with strong female characters defying their societal limitations and bounds. It is that — but I think its core message and meaning is about respecting, revering, cherishing, and protecting family.

The Joan portrayed by Grace Van Patten is a teenager — semi-articulate, champing at the bit to have her own life her own way unfettered by the wise and well-intentioned guidance of a loving and frank mother. Their relationship, in all its rich complexity of pride and resentment, is the backbone of the play. But no less important or less complex are the relationships between husband and wife, father and son, sister and brother. They bicker, they joke, they anger, but they care deeply for and about each other. And as their collective family life is turned upside down by Joan’s celebrity — and then devastated by her trial and death — they cling closer, drawing strength and support from each other.

Because neither strength nor support are in the offing from the forces surrounding them. The play’s cast is tiny — seven actors in all — but convincingly represents the outer worlds of church, state, and military that at first adulate and then abruptly and absolutely abandon Joan.

Trained by my brother Martin, the most brilliant and compassionate theater critic ever, I always ask “Why this play now?” And the answer came to me the first time I sobbed during the performance, touched by the so-human, so-real, so-recognizable interplay between the Arc family members: this is an affirmation of what is right in the world, what is good, and what is to be deeply appreciated. Societal self-interest rules now, as it did then. Morals and principles crumble in the face of self-preservation and self-aggrandizement. But against that backdrop, we can be strong and noble and good and loving in the circle of our loved ones.

Isabelle Arc, as portrayed by Glenn Close, is earthy and vibrant and smart and brave. The real Isabelle, embodied in stone at the top of this post, lived into her seventies. She vigorously petitioned the Vatican to clear her daughter’s name — and won. Her message, brought to us by playwright Jane Anderson, is that we can prevail.

I needed to hear that.

The Bookshop

Let’s start with the good stuff: Emily Mortimer, Bill Nighy, and Patricia Clarkson. Their performances were distinctive, intelligent, impeccable. In particular, Mortimer’s performance must be remarked upon. I have never seen a more real depiction of self-conscious awkwardness than she evinced in the almost painful scene near the film’s beginning, where she is meeting the elite of the community in which she has decided to open her bookshop. Her inner despair over her dress (which was nowhere near as ill-suited as she thought), her discomfort in engaging in small talk with strangers, perceiving every sentence she utters as inane (it was not) — Mortimer was staggeringly good.

And when she and Nighy sat down to tea — or later, met on the shore — they utterly, achingly portrayed the plain reality of two shy, diffident people, molded by war’s losses, stiffly navigating awkward silences and hesitant declarations to somehow, almost miraculously, communicate inner grace and tenderness. Their stiff-armed, gawky, almost imperceptible lean toward each other on a windswept shore put the cliché to every easy melding of paired individuals in a similar setting: breaking out of oneself and toward another does not come easy to some. Patricia Clarkson, for her part, gave us a villainess for our times: wrathful, vindictive, bitterly petty, and unassailable; her blood-red slash of a mouth mesmerizing and haunting.

Also wonderful: the cinematography — I felt chilled to the bone in a landscape bleak as Haworth parsonage.

The subject matter too: a movie spent lovingly in and around and among books, with protagonists who live and breathe and literally wallow in books. Heaven, indeed. And I have to confess to having applauded in the theater when Bill Nighy’s character demanded more Ray Bradbury.

And too I came away from the movie wanting to read the book.

But that last virtue is also the beginning of my problems with the movie: I want to read the book because I couldn’t believe, at film’s end, that this was the message author Penelope Fitzgerald wanted to impart.

The Bookshop tells the story of Florence Green, who, by locating her bookshop in the workaday town of the aptly named Hardborough, rams headlong into the plans of the imperious Violet Gamart, social leader and éminence grise. The conflict is broadly hinted at by the women’s very names. For a while, it’s a straightforward good guy versus the oppressor narrative, and, as in Chocolat or Pride, you figure the heart of the community will slowly be won over by the forces of reason and righteousness and the dragon slayed, tamed, or shamed.

But as the movie progresses, and the injustices and unfairnesses pile up, you realize that the deck is totally stacked against our heroine. And, horrifyingly, the people of the community boldly, blandly, or abashedly rally around, not the Everyman, but the Oppressor. And it was then, when the nature of the adversarial relationship was almost ludicrously over the top — in Thelma Ritter’s words in All About Eve, “Everything but the bloodhounds snappin’ at her rear end” — that I stopped focusing on the story per se, which seemed a bit ham-fisted at this point, and yielded to a passionate interest in how the meek, mild, and powerless would confront the big, bad, and bellicose.

Seems very much a theme for today. How do you press to live a life of modest dreams and expectations when it is completely out of step with a political order established  to favor the rich and powerful? What tools or weapons are at your disposal to disarm, distract, deter, or defeat an implacable will that does not understand — and does not want to understand, has no way to understand — your values?

One character tries a direct approach and is destroyed. Another leaves: head held high, but defeated nonetheless. But the conflagrant approach that is seemingly endorsed by the film is, to me, completely wrongheaded. You cannot extol Fahrenheit 451, pin a (albeit ultimately fizzled-out) plot element on Lolita, and then suggest that by their extinction, good will arise phoenix-like from the ashes, without ever having to confront the force that threatened them in the first place. It should be axiomatic: burning books is a tragedy, never a solution.



I really liked this movie — until I didn’t, about three-quarters of the way through. Puzzle is gossamer, suspended so delicately in a believable reality that when the spell woven by the excellent Kelly Macdonald and the mesmerizing Irrfan Khan is broken, you can drive trucks through the flimsy logic of the film’s world. Spoilers abound; my apologies in advance.

I am all for stories about women. I am all for stories about empowerment and growth and learning and yearning and upending expectations. But they must be grounded in reality, and they must be honest rather than merely anthemic. And I am so sorry that Puzzle simply does not measure up by these standards.

Briefly, Puzzle is about forty-year-old Agnes, colorless, dutiful housewife and mother of two living in Bridgeport, Connecticut, stifled by circumstance and personality. She lives entirely for others, not so much selflessly as anemically. But then, a chance birthday gift of a thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle rekindles a long-extinguished pleasure in patterns and precision, as well as unleashing a prodigious talent: she assembles and reassembles the puzzle twice before getting dinner on the table. This is the most interesting part of the movie: watching her find her talent and voice as she shops for additional puzzles in New York and then responds to an ad seeking a puzzle partner for the upcoming national championship. It is thrilling to see Agnes, who rather reminded me of a waiflike Edith Bunker, come alive to her surroundings, her family dynamics, her helpless timidity, and attempt to exert a measure of control over these.

The brush with the exotic partner, Robert, an independently wealthy divorcé, is the catalyst for much of Agnes’s new awareness of the external — and her own interior — world. But then the filmmakers had to go and make it a love story.

Can’t a woman simply be friends with a man? That, to me, would have been far more interesting, and far more believable. Because once we start accepting that this man would fall in love with this undereducated homebody — and, more implausibly, that sheltered, Catholic Agnes married for some two decades would entertain the thought of adultery — the mechanics behind the scrim are revealed. I was jolted out of the storytelling into an awareness of being told a story, rather than being shown a life.

Agnes does not exist. What forty-year-old blue-collar woman in the tristate area in 2018 is a stay-at-home housewife? And the Agnes the filmmakers are wanting me to believe in would not hurt her husband, notwithstanding his insensitivity, chauvinism, and sometimes almost callous disregard for the wife he nonetheless adores and has built a life with.

I cannot recall the title of the movie or play or book that Agnes’s arc brings to mind, but it is there niggling at me. There is a woman, lately weak and insecure, who is by the last scene busily and happily creating while her once-dominant husband is offhandedly, but affectionately, dismissed for the evening. I sort of see Katharine Hepburn or Rosalind Russell in the part, but it might also be Wendy Hiller in Pygmalion. But the soaring independence is palpable and exhilarating and  satisfying. Agnes’s own choice to both diss husband and ditch lover to hightail it to Montreal for “me time” annoyed the hell out of me. And yes, I fully appreciate the filmmakers’ setup that Agnes’s puzzle-crafting strategy, which she reverted to after adopting a paired strategy in her sessions with Robert to win the big championship, is all about self-reliance and singlemindedness.

But to assert self alone — even if for just a holiday respite — in a household with basically decent and caring people (they all sit down, cellphone-less, for dinner as a family every night!) or even with the existence of a knowing and caring lover is to deny the importance of connectedness in what Robert rightly terms a chaotic world.

The movie could have been so good, and the actors really gave it so much. A pity that the filmmakers could not move past a feminist, as opposed to humanist, ending.

Certain Women (Madeleine L’Engle)

David and Abigail by Antonio Molinari

Since falling in love with Meg Murray and A Wrinkle in Time at around age twelve, I have been a huge fan of Madeleine L’Engle — but really, surprisingly, had not read any of her other books, and certainly none of the books she wrote for adults. Certain Women (1992) is very much an adult novel, but it shares the innocence and quiet strength of Wrinkle, and its heroine Emma is a not-too-distant cousin of Meg. Is it a good book? It is a book with much goodness in it, but it is not an entirely successful book. But then, what is success? It might not be wholly consistent or wholly believable, but I believed in its characters enough to tear up at the end.

The conceit of Certain Women is that famous American actor David Wheaton is a twentieth century analogue of King David, with nine wives and eleven children more or less corresponding to the biblical David’s. Now, this attempt to draw historical parallels in fiction can work extremely well. A much-beloved sprawling epic from my teen years, Susan Howatch’s Penmarric, tells the fiery multigenerational tale of the Castallacks of Penmar as thinly disguised avatars of the Plantagenets. The book made my brother and me lifelong devotees of Eleanor of Aquitaine and her brood. Because fiction can humanize in a way that histories and biographies too often cannot, Penmarric made the Plantagenets live and breathe; it skillfully transposed the Middle Ages to a late nineteenth/early twentieth century framework, creating plausible comparable scenarios across time.

L’Engle does not manage to do this. The parallels are, for one thing, apparent to — and remarked on ad infinitum by — the characters, which really dampens their effectiveness. It becomes less an imaginative enriching of the past through relatable characters than a tedious — and too frequently unbelievable — connecting of the dots. Moreover, nobody in real life spends as much conversational energy as Certain Women‘s characters do rehashing their tortuous family milestones. To have David and his various ex-wives and progeny tirelessly retread the succession of the actor’s multiple marriages in an effort to provide perspective to the whys and wherefores of their family tree against the backdrop of the patriach’s dying days and last bedside visits stretches credulity. Plus, for much of the book, the conversations between the characters only establish relationships.

But to carp on this would be to ignore the joys of the book. And there are many. For one, there is the welcome simplicity and grace of L’Engle’s style. This struck me early on, when I came upon a sentence describing how Emma was bringing dinner to the family in a steaming bowl. And the sentence stuck in my head and I wondered why. And then it came to me: because L’Engle very rarely uses an adjective. Her language is plain and unadorned and clear; she’s not Hemingway — this isn’t used to a stylistic end. It’s just neat, unobtrusive storytelling, with sufficient detail provided to paint the picture. It is a nice authorial voice, never calling attention to itself, but always stolidly, solidly backing up the characters and the actions. Making the revelations of the latter part of the book, as the family’s skeletons are displayed, quite stark and shocking.

Another pervasive pleasure is that this is a book first and foremost about the strength and resilience of women. I was at first quite put off by the fact that all these fantastic, smart, accomplished, artistic, perceptive women who populate the novel are subservient spokes to the hub that is David: propping up and propelling him to strut and fret center stage. This really bothered me, although I tried to chalk it up to L’Engle’s being a remnant of an earlier era (she was seventy-four when this book was published). But then she solves the problem — cleverly, beautifully, and completely. She had recognized the issue from the start, and upends it magnificently.

The final pleasure of the book is its wise and compassionate stance. Even though its structure is flimsy, its characters and their love and support for one another, their desire to be better, are strong and compelling:

“Is this asking too much of you, Emma?” His eyes questioned her anxiously.

“I don’t know. I think we’re supposed to ask too much of each other; otherwise, nothing would ever get done…”

To spend time with such people is really rather nice.

Spider Kiss (Harlan Ellison)

Steve Barber/AP

To commemorate the passing last month of the incomparable short story writer Harlan Ellison, I went on a mini–Harlan buying and reading spree. To report out on the first of the volumes thus far tackled, this is a short review of the short novel Spider Kiss, originally published the year my brother was born, 1961.

In a nutshell, while classic Ellison, this is not immortal Ellison. The problem mostly lies, I think, in his decision to make this a full-scale novel rather than a short story. An early work (most of the Ellisonia I cut my teeth on was from the late 1960s through the ’70s), it has the familiar voice and dirty milieu, but not the sustained punch and certainly not the fantastical elements. For an unusual feature is that Spider Kiss is firmly set in a real and recognizable world, with nothing speculative about it.

The book has an intriguing premise: the rise from obscurity to fame of an Elvis/Jerry Lee Lewis–style singer with a talent as pure as his character is tainted. The cobra-like Stag Preston — whose unholy charisma I at first thought would constitute a fantastical element, and I wonder what the book would have been if Harlan had taken that tack — is mesmerizing in his depravity and unmitigated loathsomeness. Ellison conveys the grim and jaundiced better than anyone, and the cynical shysters, opportunists, and exploiters populating Stag’s world would be at home in any hard-boiled noir. But his protagonist Sheldon Morgenstern does not take the journey of redemption the author has set down, moving from grasping to grace. He never feels to have changed substantially, and without that moral conviction, you only have left a tale of increasing — and ultimately wearying — outrage.

Salvaging the slim story are bounteous examples of Ellison’s delight in and command of the language, as well as of his acute powers of description:

He was big in small ways.

He had come up with a product for which there was — at the moment — no demand whatsoever.

Manhattan late at night was a pearl. It shone and it rested and it lived all at once.

With success and almost regal treatment by the highest and lowliest alike, Stag had acquired a deeper, more sophisticated sense of distrust…

Ruth Kemp began speaking. It was a great boulder rumbling down a hill, beginning far off softly and louder and louder till it became an avalanche. It was a dynamo hurtling itself to life, spinning sibilantly at first then whining at top-point efficiency till the sound mounted up and up and glass shattered.

And in stark contrast to that last, where Ellison’s grand extended metaphor elevates and invokes, there is this clean, crisp phrase a few paragraphs later that precisely and concisely says exactly what it means:

She felt the need to declare herself in regard to what she had witnessed…

Ellison rather punts with the ending, which takes an interminably long time to wrap up — a length that could only be justified had he taken a surprise twist, which he did not. And that is morally if not aesthetically satisfying, and why I love Harlan Ellison. There are plenty of other authors (and politicians) who will gleefully twist the narrative to foil the hapless. Harlan has a bleeding heart full of sympathy for the person trying to escape fate, circumstance, or character flaw.

And Now Goodbye (James Hilton)

Literature. Personalities. pic: circa 1940. James Hilton, English novelist, (1900-1954), among his works 'Goodbye Mr. Chips' and 'Random Harvest'. : News Photo
James Hilton (1900-1954), circa 1940 (Photo by Popperfoto/Getty Images)

And Now Good-bye (1931) is a quietly heartbreaking story, anticipating the tone, features, and arc that appear in James Hilton’s better known works, such as Lost Horizon and Goodbye Mr. Chips (published in 1933 and 1934, respectively). But it isn’t so much what happens that’s the wistful charm of the book. Rather, it’s what tragically does not happen.

But you know that going in: the book’s title tells you as much.

Hilton presents his story in a most intriguing way: he begins after it has (mostly) ended. An omniscient narrator tells of a terrible train wreck and of a brave and selfless, yet modest and unassuming, hero who saves many lives. This is the prologue. The book then divides into several chapters: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and so on, with the last couple of days further broken into a few more chapters — Friday Tea, Friday Dinner, etc. — as the events they relate cannot be contained in a single span. And we know from the first sentence of the first chapter — with something of a jolt — that these days are the ones immediately preceding the prologue: the events that will elicit that heroism.

In the book’s early chapters, Hilton skillfully sketches in the personality and background of his protagonist, the improbably named Reverend Howat Freemantle (yet, think about that name, whose first syllable is a question with the surname a mandate), a dreamy, kindly, tolerant — but vaguely dissatisfied — Nonconformist clergyman (that means one who isn’t affiliated with the Church of England) who lives in the bleak, insular mining town of Browdley, Lancashire (“the whole world stretched out beyond Browdley”) — the setting for at least two other Hilton novels (So Well Remembered and Random Harvest). Hilton also deftly suggests his minor characters in a telling phrase or two, as with Howat’s imposing sister-in-law, who has “a menacing optimism that was not quite matched by a sense of humor.” But mostly he concentrates on developing Howat as he attends to the various duties that make up his drab, cramped existence.

The reverend, who “disliked the trouble that giving trouble caused,” is also acutely aware, primarily through music, of “the beauty of the world that lay everywhere around, in sight and sound and feeling.” This progenitor of Mr. Chips — who even muses that “If I were not a parson I should like most of all to be a schoolmaster” and is scolded by a parishioner as having “a thoroughly unsettling influence on the young people…you put ideas into their heads” — dimly, dumbly, shares Lost Horizon‘s Hugh Conway’s longing for something more beautiful, more ineffable, but has no idea what might be missing:

…his aim had been different — something not very easy to put into words — something, indeed, which he was never quite sure of understanding himself.

Although he soberly recognizes the gravity of the lack:

…life was so tragically short, and it seemed in some sense a kind of divine toss-up whether one succeeded or failed in getting anything out of it during the time allowed.

The contrasts having been established — responsibility versus romance, religion versus free expression, uncertainty versus confidence, dreaminess versus alertness — Friday and Saturday dawn and Howat’s world is seemingly turned upside down, but in reality is enriched, ennobled, sanctified. He had known beauty. But he had not known joy:

the joy of life, that unreasonable and illogical human joy that made a man buy what he could not afford and drink (for once) against his convictions

And he had not known love:

There’s something in you that means all that I’ve been meaning, all those ideas I’ve been trying to spread, everything I’ve been groping for in a blind way for years…

And the magic of Hilton’s understated tale, with its unexceptional characters and their ordinary plights, washed over me. And I remembered again why we read fiction, how we empathize and synthesize and learn and grow from sharing an author’s thoughts:

How short life was, and how brief the moments in it that really mattered!

Perhaps among those moments, for me, would be the ones spent with James Hilton.