... look closely
This is a book by Kent Nelson from Smith Peregrine Books, “The Middle of
Nowhere”, C. 1991. These stories are especially lyrically fluent. I want to
focus on a story near the end, “Invisible Life.” In using this story I want to
show how details will enrich a tale.
In the middle of this story, “The day was warm and sunny, and after lunch I
took Tracia into the woods behind the house to explore with her the places I
remembered from my own childhood. A dark stream ran through the
woodland, and the leaves above us were yellow green against the fast
moving clouds and blue sky. I pointed out, as my father had to me, the
warblers darting among the oaks and maples. The stream swirled lazily over
rocks and sodden logs, and for a while we sat on a boulder and watched the
water flow...My father had demonstrated the existence of the invisible
teaming life by taking a sample of creek water and showing me slides under
a microscope…wriggling cilia which waved in the droplets of water.”
This is the origin of the title story, “Invisible Life” but it is not clear why this
title and where it sits in the story.
Tom was visiting the home of his parents where the father had recently died.
The elder father was a science teacher at Bryn Mawr. Maybe the title was
intended to tip his hat to his dead father.
The story is about Tom and Allison where Allison has just announced her
intention to go to graduate school. This was despite the fact of two young
girls and a son, just born only months before. Allison expects that Tom will
look after the three children while she is away at graduate school. Further,
Tom’s mother seems to support Allison’s ideas.
It is not my intention to tell this story; rather I want to try to give the details
of what makes this a good story as in the lines above and these.
"The porch light was on outside, and I could see the dead spring grass and
stark branches alive with buds in the warm and misted night air. At the same
time, my mother’s reflection shimmered in the dark window-shadowy,
confused color mixed with details in the yard beyond. From her expression, I
couldn’t tell whether she was gauging herself in the glass or merely
We will learn later that Tom’s mother has a great influence in Allison’s
Here are a few more lines:
"The house seemed still for a moment, as it had often been lately-just a
pause barely notable, like a sigh between one word and another.” And, “I
stood and went to the window. A dog passed through the edge of light near
the street, his legs clicking and his head down on some scent.”
Consider these lines about Allison:
"Her eyes were relaxed, her mouth slack, in a half expectant smile. I noticed
for the first time that she had recently cut her hair, and though it was still
unkempt, it no longer covered a childhood scar at her temple.”
Don’t you feel you can reach out and touch her face?
Allison has settled in her studies at Harvard and Tom, the stoop, has
followed her there. "I took a wrong turn at the traffic circle on Route 2 and
ended up on Memorial Drive. Darkness was settling in, and with the sun
behind me, the river looked icy, bleak against the far bank and the
silhouetted skyline of Boston in the distance. I weaved though Harvard
Square and west again on Massachusetts Avenue. When I found her house
not far from Porter Square, Allison was not there.”
Now this really frosts me. I really would like to take Tom by the shoulders
and try to shake some sense into him. As for Allison, I would like to whack
her up the side of her head for leaving Tom to take care of three children
while she indulges herself. My wife, Catherine, and I raised seven children
together. Only when all the children were grown and on their own did she
pursue her career as a surgical nurse.
This story closes:" A slight breeze stirred snow from the trees, and it trickled
down through the branches onto my face. My footsteps crackled leaves
under the snow, and once out of sight of the house, I paused and listened…
my father had often taken me here, even in winter, pointing the small
details-woodpeckers’ holes or tracks of mice. The stream swirled lazily over
the rocks and black logs, and I sat on a snowy boulder and watched the
So the story ends and I don’t like the characters. Tom is spineless and
Allison is too arrogant for my taste. But don’t you see how details liven up a
November 7, 2014