I reread Prodigal Summer over the summer. It’s my favorite of Barbara Kingsolver’s novels by far. The characters have much more depth than those in her other books. I marvel at her skill for describing landscapes, for making me see a place—she reminds me of Wallace Stegner in that regard, although the styles are very different—and in this book the people are all like landscapes too. I love the way the three stories in the book come together, and I wish I could read the book again for the first time, so I could watch them woven together instead of beginning the book knowing.
But even though it has become a book I know well, different things sometimes catch my attention. I was on the train on my way home from work when, at the bottom of the page, in one of my favorite chapters, I read:
The moon was high now, and smaller, and she felt her grief shrinking with it. Or not shrinking, never really changing, but ceding some of its dominance over the landscape, exactly like the moon.Those sentences, which I’ve probably read ten times before, seemed to stand out on the page, although I’d never really noticed them before. I read them through several times. The truth in the simile made me catch my breath. Kingsolver describes the moon as having “disentangled itself from the tree branches,” and I think her comparison accurately describe how grief or trauma disentangles itself from one’s life so that a person can go on as they were, yet completely changed. At first the pain of the experience is the defining feature of the landscape—one cannot imagine herself without that pain, and the pain is an important part of who she is. It takes time for the pain to move further away, seeming to shrink, although it is still there, still a part of the landscape of emotions.
I thought of the quote again this morning, as I walked along a quiet street in
As my grief ceded its dominance over my life, I wasn’t always conscious of the transition. Still, it happened. A few weeks ago I was crying all the time. I had isolated myself from the world around me. I moved slowly, doing only the tasks that were absolutely required of me. Now I have the energy to walk to work instead of taking a bus. Fall is really here, and today I stopped on my way to the office for apple cider and a pumpkin muffin, conscious of the bright blueness of the sky and the way the cool air felt on my hands. And I felt good.