My latest Guardian column.
Saturday, 28 March 2015
Tuesday, 24 March 2015
In Britain, at the very least, Tom Drury might just be modern America’s last great lost living novelist: an astute chronicler of the shrugging, unintentionally hilarious exchanges that go on in small towns. If you’ve enjoyed the fiction of Richard Russo or Annie Proulx and, like me, you wanted to enjoy the fiction of Garrison Keillor more you’ll surely love his long out of print 1994 debut, The End Of Vandalism, which takes place in Grouse County, whose main population centre has a sign which instructs “Stop and have a look around” (the lack of exclamation mark seems somehow characteristic) and whose residents seem to be “sleepwalking through the decline of their town”. The main characters are a down-and-out petty thief and labourer called Tiny, a modest and patient Sheriff called Dan, and Louise, the woman whose affections connect the two of them and whose strongmindedness seems somehow troubling to her neighbours. “She felt as if she had strayed far from the people she understood,” Drury writes of Louise. “On the other hand, she lived within twelve miles of where she was born.” Plot is secondary, if not tertiary, here, in a way you accept more with with each smooth, calm transition Drury makes between sad and funny, with each gaspingly brilliant deadpan sentence he writes. Here he is on Louise and her mother mixing punch, for example: “They stood mixing and sampling until they were happy not only with the punch but with the house, the weather, and the lives they had led so far.” Or on the general mood of employment in Grouse County: “Family agriculture seemed to be over and had not been replaced by another compelling idea.” His most remarkable achievement of all is that out of this lugubrious place, teeming with many tiny disappointments, and a few far bigger ones, he has somehow fashioned a novel you don’t so much want to hang out in as take a mortgage out on and move into.
Tuesday, 17 March 2015
Tuesday, 10 March 2015
I shall name this photograph I took on my walk yesterday 'The Easily Offended Sheep And Her Young Family'.
Tuesday, 3 March 2015
Me: "The road is beginning to get very steep now, as we get closer to the moor. You'll notice that it's a very acidic environment up there on the highest points, which has made farming impossible on the majority of the terrain for the last eight centuries or so. Can you feel the slight change in the air and altitude already?"
Billy: "Dogs eat sticks!"
Me: "This is the Dart, one of Devon's best-known rivers. The Dart originally flows down from the moor as in two separate strands, before joining at Dartmeet. "Dart" is an ancient word for 'river where the oak trees grow'."
Me: "This is a very beautiful part of the South Hams, but do keep in mind that just down the coast from here is Slapton Ley, where 946 American servicemen died in World War II."
Billy: "Sea gravel is warm!"
Me: "We are now approaching Merrivale's megalithic stone avenue, sometimes known as The Plague Market, due to the habit of local farmers of leaving food here for plague victims from the nearby town of Tavistock."
Billy: "My dogtongue is pink!"
Me: "Devon is an amazing place for folklore legends, such as that of Kitty Jay, which emerges from an area very close to here, near Heatree Common. Kitty Jay was a woman from the parish of Manaton who hanged herself in the late 1700s. It's said that on every day of the year flowers still appear on her grave, but nobody knows who puts them there."
Billy: "Can't talk: riding my invisible dog scooter."
Me: "Today we'll be walking eleven miles to and from the historic Sharpham Estate, famous for its wine and cheese."
Billy: "I am so high right now. ON BEING A DOG."
To read more about Billy, pre-order my new book Close Encounters Of The Furred Kind, the follow-up to The Good, The Bad And The Furry.