Meh. Jessamyn West has popped up on my reading radar a few times in the last year and I finally settled in to read this one, a memoir of her childhood and an encomium on solitude. She’s perched on the edge of the Colorado river for a few months of solitary writing, living alone in a trailer once hubby Max flies back to take care of some work. Her reading list includes Thoreau (frequent references to him throughout the text make it seem like they’re roommies), Hazlitt, Belloc, Sir Thomas Browne, Christy Brown, Eudora Welty, William Stafford, Josephine Johnson. She recounts a journey with her family across country, headed back East where she must put on a skirt and ditch her Western pants to be taken seriously. The family has a collapsible oven, portable stove, and does all their cooking on the road:
The big meal took place at night when travel for the day was over. Before it was dark, we stopped in some quiet spot off the road: schoolyard or churchyard or graveyard. Or riverbank. Or woods-lot clearing. Or abandoned barn. We had no tents. While the men cranked up the beds and made them, Mama and I cooked. We ate on tombstones or stumps or the steps of schoolhouses.
Alone, alone! For those who relish it, a word sweeter than muscatel to a wino. The prohibition against drink was a sometime thing. The prohibition against solitude is forever… It is not easy to be solitary unless you are also born ruthless. Every solitary repudiates someone… Female solitaries suffer more than their male counterparts… When a woman asks to be alone, not alone like Garbo, who asked only for a little privacy out of sight of her fans, but alone, alone, truly alone, separated from mother and father, husband and children, woman feels wicked, unloving, defying God and man alike. Men, in this instance (as in most), consider themselves on the side of the Lord God.
On admitting that you get more pleasure from someone leaving than arriving:
Has a person arriving ever given me the pleasure of a person leaving? A door opening, the joy of a door closing? These are terrible questions to be asking yourself at age twelve.
Slightly interesting rant about housekeeping:
I do not understand why there are so many more books about cooking than housekeeping. Is taste more primary than what is visual and tactile? do the recipes appeal to the technologist in a technological age? The alchemist? IS the recipe a formula? Do you combine this and that, apply heat, and chemistry takes over? There are no formulas for housekeeping.