Great Reads: The Sense of an Ending

…when you are young, you think you can predict the likely pains and bleak­nesses that age might bring. You imagine yourself being lonely, divorced, widowed; children growing away from you, friends dying. You imagine the loss of status, the loss of desire—and desir­abil­i­ty… What you fail to do is look ahead, and then imagine yourself looking back from that future point. Learning the new emotions that time brings. Discov­er­ing, for example, that as the witnesses to your life dimin­ish, there is less corrob­o­ra­tion, and there­fore less certainty, as to what you are or have been. Even if you have assid­u­ously kept record­s—in words, sound, pictures—you may find that you have attended to the wrong kind of record-keeping.

Sense of an Ending is a short and wonderful book, a slim 180 pages readable in a single sitting. There’s much to savor, though, and like Marilynne Robinson or Alice Munro, Barnes chooses every word carefully and precisely. Highly recommended. Amazon

Alice Munro

Funny how quickly six weeks can pass without an update; I’ve been meaning to finish my series on e-mail deliv­ery, and maybe write more about some of the music and books I’ve been appreciating lately.

This passage from The Love of a Good Woman by Alice Munro caught me today:

She still says this every once in awhile.

“What I remember most is that I could­n’t touch you and wondering if you understood.”

Karin says yes. She under­stood. What she doesn’t bother to say is that back then she thought Rosemary’s sorrow was absurd. It was as if she was complaining about not being able to reach across a conti­nent. For that was what Karin had felt she had become—­some­thing immense and shimmering and suffi­cient, ridged up in pain in some places and flattened out, other­wise, into long dull distances. Away off at the edge of this was Rosemary, and Karin could reduce her, any time she liked, into a config­u­ra­tion of noisy black dots. And she herself—Kar­in—­could be stretched out like this and at the same time shrunk into the middle of her terri­tory, as tidy as a bead or a ladybug.

I find myself returning to Munro’s stories even though I’m in the middle of reading a couple of other books right now, both for their emotional immediacy and how well their length and struc­ture lends itself to my current schedule.


In college all of them had studied the putative effects of deraci­na­tion, which were angst and anomie, those dull horrors of the modern world. They had been examined on the subject, had rehearsed bleak and porten­tous philoso­phies in term papers, and they had done it with the earnest suspen­sion of doubt that afflicts the highly educa­ble. And then their return to the pays natal, where the same old willows swept the same ragged lawns, where the same old prairie arose and bloomed as negli­gence permit­ted. Home. What kinder place could there be on earth, and why did it seem to them all like exile? Oh, to be passing anony­mously through an imper­sonal landscape! Oh, not to know every stump and stone, not to remember how the fields of Queen Anne’s lace figured in the childish happi­ness they had offered to their father’s hopes, God bless him.

Passages like this make me think that Marilynne Robinson may be my new favorite author. Home is a wonderful book, beautiful and moving and written with such evoca­tive, precise language. I can’t recom­mend it enough. But if my recommen­da­tion hasn’t convinced you, please read James Wood’s excellent piece in the New Yorker about Robinson and her work.