Balm in Gilead

by | Aug 29, 2007 | Literature

There’s been this nasty taste in my mouth for the past two days. I’m thinking it’s something I read, but can’t recall what it might it have been or who might have written it. Anyway, today I am wallowing in the balm of beautiful prose, having stumbled across a novel I have not read since fifth grade.

It was a rainy day in Spain, and I was on my way home from school, when I came across a paperback copy of Carson McCullers’ The Member of the Wedding forlorn and forgotten in the street. At the time (has anything really changed?) I would read anything that fell into my hands, or at least take it for a spin, and from the first page of this Southern Gothic classic I was hooked. How much I understood of it at the time I could not say, but it left a huge impression on me.

This morning I ran across it again, forlorn and probably forgotten, stuck away on a shelf in a classroom where I happened to be teaching a section of English as a second language to, coincidentally enough, a group of native Spanish speakers. It’s been an interesting reunion. I was curious to see how much of the story I would recall, and although I’d forgotten many of the details, I do remember most of the characters, especially childishly precocious John Henry West, and the red-headed soldier, and of course the narrator and protagonist, gangly and awkward Frankie Addams, the way she used to dowse herself with perfume, and her fascination with her brother’s wedding, and her desperation to belong.

Even more, I remember how fine it was to be able to give myself up to the entrancing power of great writing.

Actually, I’d forgotten that Carson McCullers was the author. Until today I thought the only thing I knew of hers was The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, and that only through the very excellent movie with Alan Arkin. Looks like I’ll have to read it now. That and all the other McCullers that I haven’t yet read. It’s going to be a great few weeks.