Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Going Deaf, Quietly

I'll go on a tear sometimes when I find myself in a used bookstore and buy up an armload of books without really studying them first. I bring them home and set them in a stack on my desk or a table where they'll be left for a few days just so I can gaze upon them.

I love books.

Eventually, of course, those books need to be given a home and I'll spread them out among various bookcases or, if they're lucky, place them within the same case where they'll be allowed to remain a family. And then, occasionally, I'll wander through my shelves and look for something to read.

This is how Deaf Sentence by David Lodge (Viking, 2008) found its way into my house, onto my shelf and, recently, into my hands again. I'm not even sure where this book came from or why I might have picked it up. I'd never heard of the author and the cover is hideous. I always take the dust jackets off books while I read them to preserve them, but I would have taken this one off regardless; it's awful.

The book, however, is good. It's the story of Desmond Bates, takes place in a town north of London, and involves his elderly father, younger wife, children, step-children and a crazy American Ph.D. candidate. Bates is a retired professor of linguistics who is going deaf and describes, in detail, what it's like to go slowly deaf. That must be how deaf people live, within their own heads, hashing things out, paying attention to every detail that doesn't involve sound. Bates is very thoughtful and reflective, and Lodge takes his time with this character.

As Bates goes slowly deaf, he deals with the mundane, day-to-day tasks of a retired person. In these days of repetition, however, is thrust an aging father near the end of his life and a student studying the linguistics of suicide notes. The characters and their plights weave in and out of each other and leave the reader, at times, wondering how and why it's all going to come together in the end.

It does come together, just give it time.

The reason one might not be compelled to give this book the time required is because it's a quiet book. And that speaks to me. I like quiet books. I've documented here many times my fondness for the books of Richard Russo, Paul Auster and Richard Bausch, and they all write what I would call "quiet" books.

I received a rejection from an agent recently for my manuscript, The Simplest Pattern. The rejection was full of encouragement and compliments, but did say that it is "too quiet." I know this has more to do with the market than with what this agent thinks makes a good book, but it still stings. Probably more than anything, it stings because it's completely out of my control. It's how I write. It's how I wrote The Simplest Pattern, it's how I'm writing my next book and it's how I'll write my tenth book. I can't change the way I write (not to that degree), nor do I want to, but neither can I change the market place.

I'm not sure what the market was like when Lodge wrote Deaf Sentence, which was published in 2008, and was his 14th novel. I don't know what the industry was like when he wrote and sold his first novel. This is the first book (though it won't be the last) by Lodge that I've ever read, but I'm sure there is not a lot of difference in voice between that first and this fourteenth.

Coming across this book on my shelf was a treat, and I looked forward each day to finding a nice, quiet place to read it.