Thursday, September 17, 2020

THE LONG DRY, a speculative take on the life of a farmer after March 11's solar storm

$15.95 trade paper, available now 

Rating: 5* of five 

The Publisher Says: THE ANIMAL FACTS OF HUMAN LIFE—NEED, LOVE, CHILDREN, EXHAUSTION, INCAPACITY, DEATH—COME ALIVE IN ONE FARMER’S LONG, HOT DAY. On a long, hot day, Gareth searches for a missing pregnant cow. A dog must be put down, there are ducks to go in the pond, there are children, and there is Kate, his wife, who may be an uncrossable distance from him. Jones’s rural Wales is alive with the necessities of our own animal instincts and most human longing. 


 My Review: Every part of this book is as concentrated and as perfect as Mrs Dalloway or Montana 1948 is. I am so delighted to re-read it and find more than I saw the first time through.
Over the hills behind the farm the light started. Just a thinning of the very black night that made the stars twinkle more, vibrate like a bird's throat, and put out a light loud compared to their tininess.
Like those brief, compact stories, The Long Dry is without waste and bedizenment. The language is perfectly clear, the sentences flow elegantly, the imagery and the observation so sharp you can cut yourself on them but not feel it until later. A simple story, like all the best ones are; a man owns a farm, loses a calf, then a cow, then a dog, then a life. What it means to lose a sounds almost casual, "go back and pick it up, silly" what Author Jones explores in his trademark beautiful sentences. I can't induce you harder than that. Beautiful books happen seldom enough that I am always hopeful they'll simply levitate in front of people as they're browsing for their next read, that some fanfare will blare through their speakers when cruising online, sourceless recommendations that simply demand the fractured attention of 2020 people. A thirteen-year-old book. Yeah, right. But it should. It deserves your eyeblinks. Now, for the many people think short = good, or short = bad, in point of fact short is just a thing a story is or isn't. This one, of necessity, is.
He worries about his ability to fight for things when he is tired like this, from not sleeping, and from being worried always about tiny things—his ability to navigate a tragedy, or news of an illness. The world, he thinks, is filled with such unbelievable small heroisms, which to him have always seemed far more remarkable than the huge heroisms, of history. Somehow, we find the strength, he thinks.
Unpack that at any length, and there's a new volume of War and Peace in the world and, frankly, one is enough. But stated with the simplicity of words carved in granite, where the effort of creation is so immense that it can't be cavalierly sloshed in oceans of ink and gales of breath, it repays brevity. Curtness. What it lacks in volume it repays in depth. 

 Gareth was born on this farm to a father who served in World War II. His father's tragedies are now passing before Gareth's sleepless eyes in the form of his memoirs...memories, as Gareth needs to think of them to make them more his father's and not imposed on him from outside...and the present mingles with the past, the secrets he's kept from Kate, his wife, and she from him. Their son, their daughter, are part of their world so evanescently...though there is a hint that Dylan, the son, will not be able to break from his ties...where the cows and the sheep and the forms of the land are intensely molded into the flowing curves of Gareth's being. 

As one expects from Author Cynan Jones, the weight of the world isn't absent from any of these characters. In so many ways, as Gareth navigates the ever-worsening crisis of his life, he relives his father's trauma and atones for his load of self-applied sin.
We're expected to love too much and too long. He mustn't be like this, he thinks, he mustn't let this dark thing take him: this ever-hungry, very close big cloud of not caring anymore, and of not wanting. This is the enemy that must be fought until the end.
The depression of a man at the rag-end of his tether.
"It's raining," he says, and she can hardly hear him.
Those are the last words of the book. But they are not the end of the story. There is, in fact, an end; in a decision I didn't understand the first time I read this book, it comes elsewhere. It is, in fact, necessary for you to know the ending before the last words of the book because otherwise we will lose something precious: The wonder, the valor of going on.
{His child} says she doesn't have the right pencils for the colors she sees.
They can't make those colors, you see, because pencil colors are only the ones you see.

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