Of course I remember you.
You were born on one of those days where the sky won't break apart for the rain, where the sky won't break apart from the sun. ..
"No, you need to know that you were born on a quiet day. Not quiet like silent, but quiet like calm, quiet like beauty, quiet like serenity, quiet like love, quiet like those things that come into you and live there, steady. Stay with you until you get it, until you know that they're never leaving. Until you get it, know that you can always find them when you really need them."
That is from the title story in You Were Watching from the Sand, the debut collection from Juliana Lamy. It is luminiscent. Traces of this beautiful sensibility, this poetical prose, this illuminating look at people, are found throughout the other stories.
Lamy writes of people from where she is from and has lived -- Hattians in America and back home, kids, healers, those with a touch of magic and those who seek that magic to heal themselves and others in their family. In one story, a young woman remembers the teaching of her auntie and uses a journal she left behind to craft a companion who may or may not be a version of herself. When the companion learns how limited the young woman's ability is, the reactions are complex. They reflect what it's like when children learn their parents can't take care of everything that goes wrong.
One story shows the fragility of the life of one of the domestic child servants of the wealthy, and how he finds a way in his mind to be able to carry on. In another, a wealthy woman insists her family cared for and about these child servants.
Many of the young people in the stories have trouble staying within themselves. One girl has always been a jumper, to be active. When she falls accidentally one day and crashes into a neighborhood potential star athlete, the aunties can't perform a trick similar to all the king's horses and all the king's men.
The yearning to be near another person is there, too. And for most characters, the physical and emotional are connected in the way they are depicted. Aspects of the characters are forged together better than the characters' varying emotions are. Still, they strive. They all strive. They are searching for what Lamy promises in one story:
Sometimes the truth doesn't come up to meet you. Sometimes it waits for you on the top shelf till you get big enough, tall enough, old enough to reach it.
Not every story in this collection shows the characters reaching that top shelf. But the striving and the yearning are always there, and they show the value in trying and caring.
The National Book Awards longlists were published in The New Yorker last week. Here are the books nominated for the Fiction prize:
Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, Chain Gang All Stars
(which I wrote about here)
Aaliyah Bilal, Temple Folk
Eliot Duncan, Ponyboy
Paul Harding, This Other Eden
(also longlisted for this year’s Booker Prize)
Tania James, Loot
Jayne Anne Phillips, Night Watch
Mona Susan Power, A Council of Dolls
(to be featured here another week)
Hanna Pylväinen, The End of Drum Time
Justin Torres, Blackouts
LaToya Watkins, Holler, Child
And, the nominees for the Translated Literature prize:
Juan Cárdenas, The Devil of the Provinces
Translated from the Spanish by Lizzie Davis
Bora Chung, Cursed Bunny
Translated from the Korean by Anton Hur
David Diop, Beyond the Door of No Return
Translated from the French by Sam Taylor
Jenny Erpenbeck, Kairos
Translated from the German by Michael Hofmann
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