There’s a certain slant of light,
On winter afternoons,
That oppresses, like the weight
Of cathedral tunes.
Heavenly hurt it gives us;
We can find no scar,
But internal difference
Where the meanings are.
None may teach it anything,
‘Tis the seal, despair,-
An imperial affliction
Sent us of the air.
When it comes, the landscape listens,
Shadows hold their breath;
When it goes, ‘t is like the distance
On the look of death.
Farley and I typically read non-fiction. We tried The DaVinci Code because I thought the Mary Magdalene aspect of the story would appeal to him (in the past he’d written sermons about her), but I found I had to edit while I read – the story jumped around too much for his taste. It took awhile for me to find another book to suggest; it was something I had grabbed while at Powell’s Bookstore in Portland. It was displayed in the “staff favorites” section and titled The Fault In Our Stars. I didn’t know it was hyper-popular and that the story had become a film. I knew nothing about the author, John Green. But I read a few pages and thought the dialog snappy enough to echo the way white teens talk and bought it, not thinking anything about Farley.
One of the main characters in the novel is a fictional novel titled An Imperial Affliction, written by the fictional author Peter Van Houten who grabbed his title from the third stanza of the Emily Dickinson poem (the poem’s first stanza contains two of my favorite lines from American poetry “There’s a certain slant of light / On winter afternoons” that for me so perfectly describes late afternoon New England winter sunlight – that light is so different from morning light, which seems radiant, encompassing all – those shafts of afternoon light seem intent on illuminating specific objects such as a book in a case, or the salt shaker on the table or the dog in front of the ottoman or a fox at wood’s edge). The star-crossed protagonists of The Fault meet in a cancer support group and both adore AIA as they call the fictional novel; the fictional novel ends in mid-sentence and the protagonists want to know “what happened” and set a meeting with the author.
So I read quite a bit of the book, discussed it with a friend from Portland who liked the book quite a bit. But as so often happens these days with my reading, I didn’t finish The Fault. Distracted with thoughts and some activities, I set it aside. Then I wondered if the novel would be of interest to Farley. There is a character who loses his sight and I wondered if his struggles would be of interest to Farley. The two protagonists have cancer, which Farley’s wife had. They are young people, but interesting young people, and their story would take us far from our weekly menu of New Yorker and NY Review of Books chaff.
One Wednesday I asked if he might want to read The Fault in Our Stars and I described the basic plot. He said no. A few weeks later, I suggested it again, and he said yes. For the past two weeks we’ve read four chapters a session. Yesterday he commented that in all his years of pastoral counseling he never encountered anyone like these two teens.