I’ve just finished Henry Miller’s Black Spring, among memoirs I’ve been reading for research on an upcoming book. A 20th-century American writer from Brooklyn, Miller (1891-1980) created a unique type of novel now known as Fictionalized Autobiography. His work has been criticized, especially in his early days, as being overly explicit. And much of it is. His writing frequently breaks down to free-association, the gist of which would escape me, but in general, his work is vivid and thought-provoking.

At his best, Miller sets a scene. Here are just a few superb examples:

“All the changing tides and weather that passed over the river are in my blood. I can still feel the slipperiness of the big handrail which I leaned against in fog and rain, which sent through my cool forehead the shrill blasts of the ferryboat as she slid out of the slip. I can still see the mossy planks of the ferry slip buckling as the big round prow grazed her sides and the green, juicy water sloshed through the heaving groaning planks of the slip. And overhead the sea gulls wheeling and diving, making a dirty noise with their dirty beaks, a hoarse, preying sound of inhuman feasting, of mouths fastened down on refuse, of scabby legs skimming the green-churned water.”

“And now, out of the dark-clustered wood, amidst the cypresses and evergreens, there comes a phantom couple arm in arm, their movements slow and languid. A phantom couple in evening dress–the woman’s low-necked gown, the man’s gleaming shirt studs. Through the snow they move with airy steps, the woman’s feet so soft and dry, her arms bare. No crunch of snow, no howling wind. A  brilliant diamond light and  rivulets of snow dissolving in the night. Rivulets of powdered snow sliding beneath the evergreens. No crunch of jaw, no moan of  wolf. Rivulets and rivulets in the icy light of the moon, the rushing sound of white  water and petals lapping the bridge, the island floating away in ceaseless drift, her rocks tangled  with hair, her glens and coves bright black in the silver gleam of the stars.”

“It is a Saturday afternoon and this Saturday afternoon is distinct from all other Saturday afternoons . . . . I have such a sense of being at home that it seems incredible that I was born in America. The stillness of the water, the fishing boats, the iron stakes that mark the channel, the low lying tugs with sluggish curves, the black scows and bright stanchions, the sky never changing, the river bending and twisting, the hills spreading out and ever girdling the valley, the perpetual change of panorama and yet the constancy of it, the variety and movement of life under the fixed sign of the tricolor, all this is the history of the Seine which is in my blood and will go down into the blood of those who come after me when they move along these shores of a Saturday afternoon.”

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  • Copyright © 2011-16, Dianne Ebertt Beeaff. All Rights Reserved.
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