Friday January 15th, 2010

The Art of Vivid Surprises

In the latest issue of The Believer, Chris Bachelder has a brief but potent piece about how “the vivid surprises of child-rearing seem so similar to the vivid surprises of good literature.” A taste:

One of my daughter’s favorite books is called Neighborhood Animals. I wish the book had a counter in it, like a website, so that I could see how many hundreds of times we’ve read it. I know this book. Certainly it must be among the least surprising objects in my home. When my daughter chooses Neighborhood Animals, I have the impulse to flee the house and check into a rental cabin under an assumed name. I mention this simply so that you will not presume that I am at all vigilant or attuned. I am no sensitive instrument of detection. . . . One Saturday morning a few weeks ago my daughter brought me Neighborhood Animals, and she opened it to the first page (“Is that a dog in the park?”). My pulse slowed to hibernatory rate and I struggled to remain conscious. “A dog has an amazing sense of smell,” I mumbled. “It can tell what people and dogs have been here even after they’re gone.” My daughter sat up straight, held her hand on the page so that I could not turn it. She faced me, her wide eyes filled with a question I wasn’t equipped to answer.

(Via Chip Brantley)