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The Sparkling-Eyed Boy: A Memoir of Love, Grown Up Paperback – May 12, 2004
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From Publishers Weekly
While the words "what if" may be the most potent daydream triggers known to humanity, writers usually explore the road-not-taken in the format of fiction. Benson's Bakeless Prize-winning work of "creative nonfiction" comprises some 32 entries relating to the "sparkling-eyed boy" of her teen years, her first big love. What if she'd kept coming back to Upper Michigan to see him every summer? What if they'd become a real couple? What if they'd had sex? What if they'd married? So this is a memoir, then, of what did not happen. As such, it isn't so much about this boy, but about Benson's feelings and her pleasure in writing about them. At times, it's as if Benson is reading over her own shoulder, commenting on her own musings. She writes that she considered suicide once, but then rebukes herself: "This is bad ethics: I shouldn't let the people who will worry about me know this." After describing the boy's form as "thrown into relief" she adds, "what a beautiful phrase, 'thrown into relief.' " She's fond of the paradoxical pronouncement: "It is our own goodness that gives us the power to be terrible." Buried among these uninteresting musings are occasional moments of insight. A friend tells her, "You're pining for something; you're not really pining for him." Benson admits she's right, that she's pining because "it feels good to feel bad sometimes. So much better than feeling nothing." Readers may want a little more from a book, however.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
In this rather self-absorbed, obsessive reworking of her first experience with love, Benson recounts her childhood summers spent on the Upper Peninsula (UP) in Michigan, where she met the sparkling-eyed boy, who lived there year-round. Although she never tells us his name, she precisely details his physical appearance, their halting conversations, and their every encounter from the first moment they met diving off a country dock. She tells of the fraught relationship between UPers and summer residents, who often vied over who had a deeper sense of place. More often, she dithers over the fact that he has married, as though she expected him always to be there, waiting for her. Her memoir is filled with an aching yearning and tinged with an eroticism that seem out of all proportion to the innocent relationship they shared as adolescents. Yet her unseemly obsession also works as a remarkably candid disclosure of what it feels like to be young and in love for the first time. Winner of a prize for creative nonfiction from the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, this is a provocative, intense read. Joanne Wilkinson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Finally, here are examples of the prose my mind kept becoming stuck on, truly brilliant writing that was as beautiful as the story being told.
"When you leave the place you will only later call home, you become, rather suddenly, though you might not know it for quite some time...like a fish without scales, the naked diamonds of its puckered skin flashing their ascent from the bottom to the air-choked top...like a flock of birds with pebble-filled bones--though the stones themselves may be quite lovely, the birds plummet toward the ground as if they had suddenly fallen in love with it. Once there, they will embrace it, wings wide and necks crooked in touchingly naive surprise...like a tiny country that can find itself on no map or atlas. It wonders, was it a dream? Those years of living and naming and fighting and crying. And the tales we tell of our headdresses and the ways we sing ourselves to sleep...like a river damned, swelling like a goiter, watching its sickly abdomen trail out the other side, raging under the pressure of itself upon itself, wishing for a pin a tooth an awl a tiny hole an eyelash crack...like a fish scaled...But the news is not all bad. Though you cannot rescale yourself, though you cannot go home, you may never know yourself better than when you are about to float, white on a streak of lake, breathing like a beast." [Pg. 3-4]
"The moon is the heart of the love of the world", I say from my dusty patch of grass next to my rented house in NJ...
"It wells in compassion, dries into a slivered ache, and wells again...Tonight I cannot say, Isn't it sad and funny and incontestable that we are piercing our eyes with streetlights and headlights and city lights and letting them bleed all over our sunken cheeks... Tonight I must put away irony because my heart is a sliver of an ache." [Pg. 17]
personal text-map as Billy Collins' poetry. Or imagine David Eggars
in his more lyrical moments. Benson manages to take plain language
and do wonderfully beautiful things with it. This is from the end,
"That is my problem: I have been looking shard by shard, but stand
back and I will have the whole, fluid mosaic. But I'm afraid there
is no perspective from which we can view every angle of a moment, a
year, a life, or the life of another. And there is no answer if I
have to answer the question myself."
Yikes! This hits exactly right! When I am at a loss for words, the
best I can do is quote from people much more skilled with language.
Benson has given me a lot to say. :-)
This is a 'small' but big book, read it carefully. This is not to
say that it's difficult to read, more that the prose has subtle
but significant power. Maybe my sense of this comes with particular
resonances with my own life -- I also recall midwestern lake summers --
but Benson makes these personal memories relevant in a way that should
intersect with anyone reading her book. It's most worthy of the
Katharine Nason Prize. I'm really looking forward to reading
Benson's future work.