I Hate to Leave This Beautiful Place

I Hate to Leave This Beautiful Place

Howard Norman

Language: English

Pages: 208

ISBN: 0544317165

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


“The events of a single episode of Howard Norman’s superb memoir are both on the edge of chaos and gathered superbly into coherent meaning . . . A wise, riskily written, beautiful book.” — Michael Ondaatje

Howard Norman’s spellbinding memoir begins with a portrait, both harrowing and hilarious, of a Midwest boyhood summer working in a bookmobile, in the shadow of a grifter father and under the erotic tutelage of his brother’s girlfriend. His life story continues in places as far-flung as the Arctic, where he spends part of a decade as a translator of Inuit tales—including the story of a soapstone carver turned into a goose whose migration-time lament is “I hate to leave this beautiful place”—and in his beloved Point Reyes, California, as a student of birds. Years later, in Washington, D.C., an act of deeply felt violence occurs in the form of a murder-suicide when Norman and his wife loan their home to a poet and her young son. In Norman’s hands, life’s arresting strangeness is made into a profound, creative, and redemptive story.

“Uses the tight focus of geography to describe five unsettling periods of his life, each separated by time and subtle shifts in his narrative voice . . . The originality of his telling here is as surprising as ever.” — Washington Post

“These stories almost seem like tall tales themselves, but Norman renders them with a journalistic attention to detail. Amidst these bizarre experiences, he finds solace through the places he’s lived and their quirky inhabitants, human and avian.” — The New Yorker

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commission due the auction house. I’d missed my interview. Isador was not pleased. I found him playing checkers with the chef in the restaurant’s kitchen. The chef said, “I’ll leave you two alone to talk. I’ve got dinner to prepare, eh?” I sat down across a table from Isador and told him about the auction. “Did you sign legal papers?” he asked. “Did you put your John Henry on a bill of sale?” “It was part of things.” “Then you’re screwed—pardon my French.” “It just happened.” “You and

other in the Churchill Hotel, just down to Churchill. He goes to Churchill a lot. He’s had bad dreams about having to sleep high up off the ground.” “He flies up in the air, though,” I said, as if reason could abide. “Not the same thing to him. You won’t figure it out. Just take it as fact. It’s how my father thinks when Sedna gets angry—she’s angry today. He thinks she’ll make radios from the cities net him and drag him off course. He’ll have to land in a city and he’ll never get out. He’ll

of English,” as she put it, which was true. We managed. Anyway, at about eleven P.M. on December 8 I was reading, perhaps for the hundredth time, Merwin’s Carrier of Ladders in the stockroom of the Hudson’s Bay Company store, where I had a cot and washbowl, and shaved without a mirror, all courtesy of Mr. Albert Bettany, the store’s manager since 1955. These were sparse quarters, to be sure. But I also had an electric space heater. It was about minus ten or fifteen degrees outside. Suddenly

work session. It got to the point where Lucille simply could not continue, even at severely reduced hours. But it was enough. I was fortunate to have a lot of help with the transcription and translation from her husband and two nieces, who went over the story and the vocabulary lists. Finally, on December 21, we closed up shop. But that morning of December 9, the world seemed haunted by radio, as the CBC, the BBC, and stations out of Vancouver, Amsterdam, London, Buffalo, and other locales

minutes, seven A.M. to seven P.M., and of course more frequently on Sunday mornings, Christmas, Easter, and around weddings and funerals. I soon developed an antagonistic relationship with those bells. A friend described me as being like Quasimodo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, up in the bell tower clamping his hands over his ears. The thing was, I was trying to get some writing done, needing several uninterrupted hours each morning, but the bells constructed never-changing allotments of time,

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