I finally finished the book, and here are some thoughts:
His use of innuendo was superb:
Her body hovered delicately on the last edge of childhood—she was almost eighteen, nearly complete, but the dew was still on her.
But sometimes after a big build-up, the lack of detail was anti-climatic:
Afterward they drove back to the hotel, all flushed and happy, in a sort of exalted quiet. She wanted to be taken and she was, and what had begun with a childish infatuation on a beach was accomplished at last.
Humor seemed to pop up in unexpected places:
"There are lots of people dead since and we'll all be dead soon," said Abe consolingly.
It's been said that you never know what's in a person until they're squeezed. If this is true, Dick Diver was a lemon. I was appalled by his racism.
Dick closed the door and stood thinking; he heard cautious steps in the corridor and then Nicole calling him by name. Opening the door he whispered: "Bring the couverture and top blanket from one of our beds—don't let any one see you." Then, noticing the strained look on her face, he added quickly, "Look here, you mustn't get upset over this—it's only some nigger scrap."
Even though its use was limited, I quickly grew tired of this "clever" device:
Dick's voice, shouting and screaming. "Are there any English? Are there any Americans? Are there any English? Are there any—oh, my God! You dirty Wops!"
Nicole reproved him when they were in their room alone. "Why so many highballs? Why did you use your word spic in front of him?"
"Excuse me, I meant smoke. The tongue slipped."
Do you mind if I pull down the curtain?
His descriptions of the tribulations of his patients were some of the most interesting sections of the book:
His most interesting case was in the main building. The patient was a woman of thirty who had been in the clinic six months; she was an American painter who had lived long in Paris. They had no very satisfactory history of her. A cousin had happened upon her all mad and gone and after an unsatisfactory interlude at one of the whoopee cures that fringed the city, dedicated largely to tourist victims of drug and drink, he had managed to get her to Switzerland.
...The woman thought a moment; her voice came up through her bandaged face afflicted with subterranean melodies: "I'm sharing the fate of the women of my time who challenged men to battle."
...But it's only by meeting the problems of every day, no matter how trifling and boring they seem, that you can make things drop back into place again. After that—perhaps you'll be able again to examine—–" He had slowed up to avoid the inevitable end of his thought: "—the frontiers of consciousness." The frontiers that artists must explore were not for her, ever. She was fine-spun, inbred—eventually she might find rest in some quiet mysticism. Exploration was for those with a measure of peasant blood, those with big thighs and thick ankles who could take punishment as they took bread and salt, on every inch of flesh and spirit. —Not for you, he almost said. It's too tough a game for you.
That put me in mind of one of my favorite (and very short) poems, "Counting the Mad" by Donald Justice. I'd love to post it here, but since I'm concerned about copyright issues, I'll simply direct you to this page
of Garrison Keillor's The Writer's Almanac
, where it is reprinted with permission.
I have more to say, but this post is quickly becoming too long, so I'll save the rest for later.
Do check out that Donald Justice poem
, though. I suspect you'll like it.