Saturday, September 8, 2012


So I went to the city today with my youngest and two of his friends so they could scout the merchandise in his favorite stores (or actually his favorite merchandise in the stores that carry it): SUPREME, on Lafayette, the clothing store my youngest's favorite crew (Odd Future) have something to do with, and another shop with skate boards and clothes and a room with old pinball machines down on East 12th Street whose name I forget.

But we got the train schedule wrong and were forty minutes early and they were grabbing stuff to eat and drink at the concession stand run by one of his friends dad's and I forgot to stash a New Yorker in my back pocket to read on the train while they worked their thumbs on Instagram and texting but there's a free book rack in our train station so I checked that out and discovered some books, mostly published in the 1980s, by authors I personally knew or knew their ex-spouses like Bobbie Ann Mason whose writing I've always loved and hadn't read in a while (though someone just sent me her collected stories I was planning to get into any day) so I chose that one called SPENCE + LILA.

The subtitle is "A Love Story" and it is. But probably different from most you or I have read. Mason's writing is so crisp and clear and individual you can't help but admire it, and she wields it in the service of stories about people not often tracked as emotionally honestly as she always has, in general rural white folk from the South or the Southwest. She makes them more articulate than most who write of the same people in the same regions if only in their minds at times, but more importantly she makes them as real as any reality show could never be but our lives and those we encounter in them really are.

I'm not going to tell you any story points other than to say Spence and Lila have been married a long time and live on a small farm in Kentucky. They got married and started a family back during World War Two when their folks were still just coming out of The Great Depression and lived a frugal and very old fashioned way of life. Now their children are grown with kids of their own and health problems have hit them both but  Lila's are first diagnosed as very serious.

That may sound depressing but the writing is so sharp and engaging and the characters so compellingly and individually vivid that I couldn't put it down, reading it in the station and on the train and in the skate shop and back at Penn Station and in the train, and now I'm almost done and wanted to stop for a minute to write this to say if you're looking for a good read that's quick (the writing and the length: 176 pages with illustrations) and truly satisfying you couldn't do much better than this book.

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