Wednesday, October 13, 2010

In praise of the pleasant in general, and a pleasant book in particular ...

Martha note: I firmly hold with the notion that WMRA sits at the heart of our community conversation.  As today is the first day of WMRA's Festive Fall Fundraiser, I will begin with the phone number, 1-800-677-9672. And since you're obviously sitting at your computer as you read this, here's a link to support WMRA on-line.

Martha note #2: My own schedule is all ahoo (anyone else like Patrick O'Brian's use of that term as much as I do?) over the course of the F.F.F.  I'll try to keep blog postings as regular as I can, but they may be a bit spotty . . .
This picture was taken from Aventures de Robert-Robert by L. Desnoyers, ninth edition, illustrated by F. de Courcy, Paris, circa 1860

Introduction to today's post: "In Praise of the Pleasant"
My best friend as a teenager was a guy named Allen Troxler, who was arguably the most flamboyantly talented person I have ever known. Allen moved effortlessly among the arts; creating music, theater, and visual art. Sadly for some, he never quite got around to producing the masterpieces everyone expected of him by the time he was thirty. This, however, made no difference to me. I was happy to tag along and watch and wonder at Allen's beautiful doings.

One mid-60s afternoon, as rock-n-roll bloomed and the counter-culture flexed its muscles, Allen made a startling speech to me in praise of the pleasant. Pleasant people, he said, are often undervalued, along with pleasant experiences, pleasant trips, pleasant afternoons spent sitting under a tree in the back yard doing nothing.

As a dedicated rebel, I had no idea what Allen was talking about until I turned 40. Then, exhausted and enervated from pursuing the dramatic, the challenging and the intriguing, I got it: Allen had been right. It's the pleasant interludes in life that provide real food for the soul.

About that pleasant book . . .

Late last week, our General Manager Tom DuVal came back from a meeting with WMRA's supervising dean, David Jeffrey, and handed me a book. David, who is an English professor as well as an administrator, reads voraciously for pleasure, and -- hallelujah! -- has taken to loaning me books he's enjoyed and thinks I might enjoy, as well. The book he sent over last week was Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, a novel by Helen Simonson.

I started keeping company with the Major, his yuppie son Roger, and the other people who live in Edgecombe St. Mary on Thursday evening. Over the weekend, I spent huge chunks of time lying in a hammock, reading away, fully immersed in this quiet, funny, compelling story of ordinary people trying to do their best in the midst of life's confusions.

It was, I have to say, one of those rare reading experiences that was as restful as a vacation. I cared about these people, and loved spending time with them. I think this was because the author, Helen Simonson, cares about them, as well. I love what she says on her website.
While it was often a struggle to write this first novel, it was never hard to spend time in the company of Major Pettigrew. From the first time he opened the door to his home, Rose Lodge, he has always seemed to live and be real - and my biggest challenge has been not to let him down by failing to tell his story. I hope you enjoy meeting him too.
Ms. Simonson need not worry: She has done handsomely by her Major. His story could easily have strayed into the swamp of parody or sentimentalism, but she keeps everyone and everything that happens delightfully and engagingly real. Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, as literary fiction, in my opinion, stands a cut above Maeve Binchy and a cut below Jane Austen. It reads rather like a literary British cozy -- think Miss Marple, where the action is centered on village life. But Ms. Simonson's novel is much more than story, it is about well-meaning people struggling to practice tolerance and compassion; to understand what it means to love and to be part of a  family, to find a balance between tradition and change. Major Pettigrew's Last Stand is one of those lovely novels that really makes me want to live as a kinder, gentler person.

I think Allen Troxler would like this novel very much, for Major Pettigrew's Last Stand is, first and foremost, his kind of pleasant. It very satisfyingly fed my soul.

Okay, Dean Jeffrey, anything else you'd care to lend a word-loving woman?

1 comment:

  1. From the film Harvey:

    Years ago my mother used to say to me, she'd say, "In this world, Elwood, you must be," — she always called me Elwood — "In this world, you must be oh so smart, or oh so pleasant." Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant. You may quote me.