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Me time on the front porch

Musings From The Hill

Going back to long ago (and then some) days of yore, I was too busy rearing family and taking care of our home to permit daytime reading.

It’s a self-imposed law that continues to this day. Days are for all the inevitable projects or jobs (those long lists) that somehow I never quite finish. News magazines (Bloomberg, New Yorker, Time) can’t keep me awake though relegated to the short time between bed and sleep. Novels therefore must be scheduled between six and dinner, a time I have discovered is perfect to spend on my front porch.

The favored view is on the other side but that deck is hit with the afternoon sun and the wooden chairs aren’t very comfortable. Back in those faraway days when I could enjoy a visitor, that was always our spot. Now it’s mine. Nothing wrong with that view either for it’s pretty much heavy trees which screen me from the neighbors and vice versa.

So, yes, I have once again begun to read.

“Little Women” came first. I’d never read any “girls” fiction growing up – well, Nancy Drew plus The Hardy Boys, my Dad’s Tom Swift and the ilk. I would never have gotten through Louisa May Alcott in those days. Too slow for the action I craved. Now I appreciate her compassion.

“Little Woman and the Werewolves” followed. Where did THIS come from? Truly, it wasn’t bad. Stuck to the original plot, a good recap if needed, and the werewolfy parts were well done. Though – first spoiler alert – with everyone growing fangs, who was left?

“Little Men” had to follow. (These were both large illustrated volumes from 1926 and 1928.) I tried to read this in bed, one chapter every night when possible, so never really figured out all those young boys. It was nice – but preachy as well – so I was happy when I could put it back on the shelf.

I knew I liked John Gardner. His “Sunlight Dialogues” still ranks high. Perhaps it was time to begin “Mickelsson’s Ghosts.”

Now a book has to be really dreadful to make me stop before I finish. Having published two, I figure the author deserves my attention until whatever is needed to be said is finished. This came close for, while well-written as I’d expect (but oh! So much philosophy!) and intriguingly set around Binghamton (I remember driving though and recalling passages from his writing), this has to be the most depressing novel I’ve ever read.

Peter Mickelsson seems doomed from the beginning. A philosophy professor at Binghamton, his students include a suicide who had tried to reach out and a brilliant young man carrying on with an older married singer. Was she really that bad? The stunned audience ultimately took her performance as a laugh-out-loud joke.

A sociology professor falls for him and what seems like mutual attraction (which would have been to his benefit) dissolves when he gets involved with a young prostitute. She absconds with a suitcase full of cash and her unborn child. (Where I stopped last night, she – the first! – had turned her life around and found true happiness. Mark that as one fortunate character.)

Peter meanwhile has accidentally murdered a man familiar to all in Susquehanna, where much of the action is placed, only as “the fat old man.” His involvement seems known to all, including the town’s two police officers.

Enough? Hardly. He’s ordered to court to pay alimony to a demanding ex-wife who wants more than the thirty thousand he earns. He wants to be generous to her and “the comedian,” her lover, to his grown son and daughter and now has the IRS on his trail seeking years of unpaid taxes. penalties and whatever else they think they can take.

All Mickelsson really has is an old house he bought in the country and has been lovingly – and compulsively – fixing up. People rave about his work at his Christmas party – until one faculty wife is hospitalized after looking in the party-filled dining room and seeing instead a funeral for a young child.

There are indeed ghosts – images? dreams? – of past, some future, events that Peter, now questioning his sanity, accepts with bewilderment.

Include me in that list for on page 525 (of 590 – there is an end!) I discovered a large penciled X and the notes “the first moment I realized his death was no accident.” That’s my handwriting so – apparently – I have plowed through this tome before. This time I don’t even know to whom the “his” refers.

Perhaps I can complete the reading tonight. Front porch?

I’d like that.

Susan Crossett has lived in Arkwright for more than 20 years. A lifetime of writing led to these columns as well as two novels. “Her Reason for Being” was published in 2008 with “Love in Three Acts” following in 2014. Information on all the Musings, her books and the author may be found at Susancrossett.com.

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