Sunday, July 17, 2011

Dawn Tripp

Dawn Tripp graduated from Harvard and lives in Massachusetts with her husband and two sons. She is the author of the novels Moon Tide and The Season of Open Water, which won the Massachusetts Book Award for Fiction.

Her new novel is Game of Secrets.

Recently I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata

In my own fiction, I am driven by what I cannot say. I write to find words for what lies past words. Every novel I have written starts with some dark thing I can’t quite bring myself to tell, and so I tell it on the slant, through the story.

Most of the novels I adore have a quality of otherness about them. There is as well a certain cadence to the work. I feel that along with voice, the rhythm of a narrative is a key element of creating fiction that is often overlooked. Rhythm draws a reader through a story. The meanings of words touch the mind—the twists in plot engage the intellect—but that cadence calls forth a deeper more intuitive connection to the lives of the characters. A shift in rhythm allows a reader to feel a shift in thought, a change of heart, that breath-caught-sharp moment of a revelation.

I am shamefully particular about what I read. I know the instant I read the first page of a book if the voice is one that will carry me.

About three weeks ago, my step-mother left two novels at my house. One quite well known—I had heard so much talk—I was sure I wanted to read it. I picked it up, did my first page test. No. I set it down. The next morning I was eating my toast. The other book lay on the counter. A slight novel called Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata, 173 pages, published first in 1957. I flipped it open, read the first line, and felt that sense of falling somewhere in me—what I always feel when I read the first line of a novel that I will lose my mind to.

The opening chapter of Snow Country takes place on a train: Shinamura, a rich Tokyo dilettante, is traveling to a hot spring in the snow country of Japan to see a Geisha, Komako, whom he had a brief love affair with the year before. She is ‘the woman his hand remembered.’ In this brief lovely blade of a novel, Kawabata renders a world that is not of this world. There is a certain dreamlike immediacy to the story of this love affair that we sense is doomed from the start. But Kawabata’s prose is inexorable. The strange beauty of the winter country melds with the body and face of the woman—Komako’s beauty is transient, we feel it changing, like shadows reflected on snow, as a result of her love for Shinamura and the stunned, apathetic coldness at the heart of his desire. Komako stirs him, but he can only move toward her so far.

Snow Country is one of those novels you can’t stop reading. At the same time, you won’t let yourself read too fast. You don’t want it to end.

The art of the novel is this: Kawabata renders a human connection, a love between a man and a woman that we sense will not survive. Yet Kawabata’s rendering of that failing love glints with ulterior life—so haunting and lyric we are keenly aware of what could be. It is heartbreaking, damning, yet written with such compassion we are moved.

There is a shelf in my office for novels that I will read again and again over the years. These are novels that kick open windows in my brain and somehow never fail to change me in some slight and vital way, with each re-reading. Imaginary Life by David Malouf; Emily L. and The Lover by Marguerite Duras; The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje; The Sound and The Fury by Faulkner. To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf. Wild Decembers by Edna O’Brien. The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera. These novels have a certain life—a certain nuanced undercurrent of thought and feeling that spark some immutable, unsayable thing in me. Snow Country will go on that shelf when I turn the last page—I am not there yet, and in some way, I do not want to be.
Visit Dawn Tripp's website.

The Page 69 Test: Game of Secrets.

--Marshal Zeringue