It’s fascinating to see your personal superpower reflected in someone else, something you were unaware of having until you recognize it elsewhere. In White’s essays, I see my own meandering word play, my mental jalopy rides through the countryside. I am released from the trap of writing stale, lifeless fiction and allowed to romp and frolic in my headspace if I glom on to the essay format! But on to the review.
I was especially fond of the pieces in The Farm section, where White describes life on the farm with wit and humor. He treats raccoons, geese, dogs, and pigs as characters in the grand story of life, imbuing them with feelings that get hurt, sicknesses that get healed, unwitting participation in the comedy of daily acts. Life in rural Maine is lain out before us in great detail, we see how weather forecasters are hours ahead of Maine when screeching about the hurricane, and power has been out for a few hours before the brunt of the storm hits the Whites.
I loved the first essay in the Diversions and Obsessions section, The Sea and the Wind that Blows, wherein White admits to a lifelong daydream of boating. I cannot resist massive quoting:
Men who ache all over for tidiness and compactness in their lives often find relief for their pain in the cabin of a thirty-foot sailboat at anchor in a sheltered cove. Here the sprawling panoply of The Home is compressed in orderly miniature and liquid delirium, suspended between the bottom of the sea and the top of the sky, ready to move on in the morning by the miracle of canvas and the witchcraft of rope. It is small wonder that men hold boats in the secret place of their mind, almost from the cradle to the grave.
Also some prescient thoughts about New York City decades before 9/11:
The subtlest change in New York is something people don’t speak much about but that is in everyone’s mind. The city, for the first time in its long history, is destructible. A single flight of planes no bigger than a wedge of geese can quickly end this island fantasy, burn the towers, crumble the bridges, turn the underground passages into lethal chambers, cremate the millions. The intimation of mortality is part of New York now: the sound of jets overhead, in the black headlines of the latest edition.
All dwellers in cities must live with the stubborn fact of annihilation; in New York the fact is somewhat more concentrated because of the concentration of the city itself, and because, of all targets, New York has a certain clear priority. In the mind of whatever perverted dreamer who might loose the lightning, New York must hold a steady, irresistible charm.