Monday, November 16, 2009

Sleepless Nights, by Elizabeth Hardwick

It took me a long time—months—to finish this little book. It might not necessarily invite intermittent reading, but clearly it's not preoccupied with the striptease of suspense and can be left for days, weeks, for as long as one wants, to be resumed when the mood suits its peculiar but indisputable beauty.

Anyway, it rewards sampling. A couple of passages tonight; more tomorrow night; more again in three weeks.

I always thought, proceeding: How nice to return to this.

In other words, it's not an expedient book. It's generous, leisurely, stylish—I think Hardwick is a topnotch stylist: her line is instantly recognizable, energetic, American, muscular, yet (here we go) feminine. Pre-occupied with minutiae, humane, not exactly gossipy but certainly concerned with social dynamics, long-suffering, efficient, and elegant.

While not a necessary book, it's emblematic of a kind of American writing that we must not lose. I speak of Thoreau, Whitman, Dickinson, Miller. The autobiographical, the personal, rendered, at its best, acutely, passionately—but without sentimentality; or with sentimentality conveyed with such lean self-assurance that it a acquires a kind of youthful indisputability—in the sense, I guess, that young love or American power is indisputable. The book is just about beyond logical critique due to its sheer gorgeous intensity.

This is a wonderful gift-book for someone who loves English prose. Hardwick stands with William Carlos Williams as one of the 20th century's master prose stylists.

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