Sunday, July 17, 2005

Late-night reading

I just finished The Face of a Naked Lady by Michael Rips. Started reading it right before leaving New York, then had to take a forced hiatus from the book after leaving it on the plane coming down here. (Along with a "to do" list I was using as a bookmark. I missed Naked Lady more than the list, but since I got a new copy, I find I can't shake the feeling that there was something on that list I'm forgetting.) Now that I've finished the book, I feel I committed an inadvertent act of real kindness by giving one away to a stranger.

The Face of a Naked Lady is an exercise in and a philosophical justification for the art of delving outward in life. Rips turns his own philosophical regard back on his childhood, his family, and his hometown, and writes with stark honesty about what he finds. His exploration is set in motion by the discovery--several years after his father's death--that his father may have had a side he did not know. By seeking to understand his father through others who knew him and through the stories they tell, Rips uncovers all kinds of complexities--of individuals, of relationships, of the history of a city and its people. This is not the titillation of watching someone drag dusty secrets down from the attic. It's a testimony to the importance of not missing a thing. Each time I set down the book, I found that Rips' stories had struck in me some sort of harmonic frequency of memory, bringing to mind people and events in my own family whose importance I'd overlooked or forgotten. Rips never lets his gravitas drown out his humor. The light he casts on his characters is flattering without fawning, and when he pokes fun he never mocks:
[T]he longer I worked at the plant, the less likely I was to dismiss his observations; he was a sociologist, albeit one who had a penis strapped to his shoe.

Rips' Omaha is marvelous and sad, and all the more real for the quirks he refuses to let pass unmentioned.

And to the passenger in seat 27D, I hope you appreciate what you found. The list you can toss in the garbage. I think I've gotten everything done by now, and as my grandmother used to say: "If it's important, you'll remember it."


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