He gets up, starts off in a direction that gives comfort because he can claim it as his. It will lead to something, eventually, even if that is a revised definition of nothing. He tells himself that telling himself these things does not help. Except for the many times that it does.
when i bought this book—about twenty minutes after learning of its existence—the entire synopsis was: Your book. Right now.
there’s a bit more posted now, but those four words were four more than necessary to guarantee my purchase, ‘cuz i’m already an evan dara superfan and it’s been too long since his last novel.
i’m glad i didn’t know more going into it—i’m actually sorta itching to delete that user-posted synopsis, because it’s near-impossible to distill an evan dara plot into a tidy summary, and part of the joy of his books is the dislocation you feel as you try to find your way through the convoluted glory of his prose—his books are puzzles, journeys, challenges. the pleasure is not in “understanding all the things,” but in knowing that each time you revisit it, you might understand a little more, or you might interpret something differently.
i went in knowing nothing, i ended knowing some things, but certain that i wanted to reread it, in the hopes of knowing more somethings.
in a way, it’s the most straightforward of his books, but it isn’t straightforward by any other metric; you’re not going to just be handed the name or age of the protagonist, the setting, or the specific set of circumstances that have led to his situation.
the appeal of a journey to daraland is the way he builds atmosphere and that—even if you don’t know what the heck’s going on, you are hooked into finding out more. it’s a fully immersive experience—you become surrounded by his story, and even now—a week after reading it—a part of me is still back there, trembling alongside our hero.
it’s also about his unique voice, his word-choices; these perfect descriptors that are unexpected and striking without being strained. it’s such a rare quality—so many writers try to force what comes naturally to him—cramming their prose with unusual words to give their writing a poetical flair, but if it’s not done well, it clunks everything up. dara’s aren’t…expensive words, but they’re perfect for evoking the situation. whatever that is.
Four is the manse with three gables, one on every side I’ve seen. The building has three stories, standing unswaying under a punk cut of angled rooflets and steep pediments. Walls made of heavy limestone, mullioned windows dark and depthless. Halfway up a girding of half-timbering, uncrumbled.
They’re working the manse’s east side. The buttress-stones already reach to just below the windows of the third floor and extend in a French curve twelve, fourteen feet from the exterior wall. One stone bears, worndown, blurred, the oval insignia that once hung next to our post office’s entrance door.
The buttresser, hauling my stone, works his way up the slope. Sometimes he places my stone down on the terraced stack and uses it as a prop for his next step. Not once does he grunt. In less than a minute the buttresser stops, lifts my stone above his head and compresses like a spring beneath it. He shudders back to vertical, raises his arms, his sleeves slip below his elbows and he slides the stone onto the slope’s top. Then, with both hands, he pushes the stone snug. No mortar or cement. The existing structuring of stones and rocks makes my stone stay put.
The buttresser monkeys back down to earth. He runs off and jumps over a shirtless man squirted on the ground and approaches a distributor at the next manse’s north facade. My distributor continues to look up at my stone. I tell myself he is perhaps now surveying for aesthetic purposes. He nods and turns towards me. Hmphs and blinks his eyes to say: Done. He flips open his strongbox and stirs in two fingers. Fishes out and hands me fourteen florins, muddy dark coins. Then he turns to receive the next drop, from a man who must be seventy. Beneath a white mist of hair the man moves agilely, in short scurries. His back, under loose, sodden clothes, is rippling bone and lumped muscle. He tilts and I see he’s carrying two stones. Two large stones.
I disappear for the distributor. He stands with his hand curved above his stability rail and watches another buttresser scale the heap. The buttresser’s shoes, soleless beige cloths, grab edges of stones as he clambers up. The hard hill rises. Pebbles sprinkle down. Fourteen florins.
whoever he is, he’s a star, and if you’ve never read him before, it’s time.
a karen you can trust
EVAN DARA IS A PERFECT THING.
update: i just started this book on the subway in, and it’s already in the running for best book of 2021. for me. probably not for the new york times, but only because the world’s broken all the way down. it should be on all the lists.
my copy is ON ITS WAY!