Tag Archives: Keith Maillard

More on reading ‘Gloria’ by Keith Maillard

Gloria is less a novel than it is a character study. And to say that I call into question ‘what a novel is’ and that is not my intention – what I mean to do is problematise the ‘novel-ness’ of Gloria. Maybe a character study is enough? Maybe a character study really can sustain 600+ pages of dense, full text.  Because nothing happens. We go through one summer in the inner life of Gloria, the summer of 1957 in Raysburg, West Virginia. We go back, in full text, to who she was through her life, first in boarding school, then in Raysburg, and then in college. Through college, her sorority, her friendships, then back to Raysburg in 1957, just 21 years old. And then the summer of 1957, the full and broad and hot summer. I read Gloria in July specifically to have read it in the summer – I don’t tend to time books by seasons but I wanted to see if it made a difference here and the only way to do that, really, is to read it again this winter, in the rain, when I would otherwise be reading about Canada in some fashion.

But I think it mattered, to read a book set over a summer in just one summer week, sitting at the Whip at Main and 6th after a long bike ride, reading over beer for several hours, reading about West Virginia. The structure mirrors Alex Driving South – a brief real-time narrative, framing memories that contextualise the real-time events.

What matters for me is the sheer empathy with which the entire thing is written; no gimmicks or distancing devices, nothing clever. Long discursive reaches into topics such as modern poetry and the costume of a college majorette in 1955 – topics I couldn’t imagine ever spending time with. But this is the characterisation and, again, the trust in a favourite author. I haven’t tried before to track empathy as a trait in fiction, as a quality in writing. But more than The Sea or What I Loved or any character-driven-literary-fiction I’ve read that any other people have actually read, Gloria is driven by empathy.

Sitting at the Whip again this last weekend, after a bike ride across town, to Kitsilano to buy more books. And as happy as I was with what I had to read I also wanted to read Gloria again.

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Reading ‘Gloria’ by Keith Maillard

I know that I’ve read some books too fast. I know I read Michael Ondaatje too fast, specifically Divisadero, which I read in one day last June, but I see this as just a quick way to find the contours of a novel before returning to find out how and why.

I read just two books between May and June. I read three books in a week to start May and then spent three weeks reading The Enigma of Arrival. But it meant more to me, in no small part because I spent three weeks inside of it. I spent another two weeks, right away, inside The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East – in part because it was a long, dense book about a short, dense period of history but also because it was such a joy to spend so much time in it.

I like the feeling of a book over more than a week. I carry the same book with me on the bus, to lunch, on the SkyTrain, in a lineup at the grocery store; I know how it feels in my hand and I know its weight. The heft of a big book – right now, Gloria by Keith Maillard, 600+ pages in paperback and not unmanageable but present, solid.

I don’t crease pages or crack the spine of a book, I don’t spill food or coffee or anything but over several weeks the edges all get blurred down, the corners get dulled and the book looks lived in, tidy but worn. The funny thing is that I’ve been waiting to read Gloria for over 14 months. I found my copy in Portland, at Powells, for just $3.95 – marked down with a special sticker and everything. A book they simply couldn’t sell. I got through just 10 pages of Joan Didion, Democracy, before putting it down for Gloria, one week ago. Somehow the book I couldn’t get to all year is now the only book I could possibly read.

I spent only a week with Gloria and it was not nearly enough time, I could keep reading this book on and on. I was glad to reach the end of Enigma of Arrival and Fall of the Ottoman Empire but I am having trouble getting past Gloria. Of all the stupid things I am trying to read Kennedy by Ted Sorensen – a biography of sorts written in just 1965 by Kennedy’s closest advisor. I figure 1) I’ll have to read it sometime, 2) it’s a chronological step from Gloria, set in 1957, 3) I can’t imagine moving into another novel now anyway, and 4)it will buy me some time, somehow, to keep reading but still stay here thinking about the same novel.

As always the thrill of a new book by a favourite author is to use that new book as a lens for everything else. (and how did I end up with a favourite author whose recurring images are majorettes and gender roles and West Virginia mountain roads?)  And maybe Keith Maillard is not a major author – I have two books all about Don DeLillo while our little “Keith Maillard Fan Club” on Facebook has all of 19 members – but this is the trust and faith that comes with having a favourite author. I don’t need anyone else to tell me that this is good because it works for me, now, where I am, and that is all I could ever hope for from a novel.

I’ve been writing this over two weeks, maybe more. I only made it through 60 pages of Kennedy and really, all that did was give me a chance to settle into not reading Gloria anymore.

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