A literary New Yorker shares her memories.
Novelist, poet and essayist Schwartz (Two-Part Inventions: A Novel, 2012, etc.) has gathered mostly previously published pieces on subjects ranging from childhood memories to taking an African drumming class to listening to Anthony Powell’s books on tape. Many are essays of self-discovery, efforts to dig “for the shards of…early delusions” and the sources of her easily incited anger, competitiveness and impatience. Growing up in Brooklyn in the 1940s and ’50s, Schwartz and her friends spent long Saturday afternoons at the movies, usually arriving in the middle of a feature. They watched, not certain about the plot until they saw it through at the next showing, leaving whenever they could say for certainty, “I think this is where we came in.” The reader undergoes a similar process in fitting together disparate “glimpses” into a full portrait. One essay focuses on the author’s cherished baby grand piano, an extravagant purchase by her parents, that she has moved wherever she has lived; another, on the quality of her parents’ marriage and its hidden intimacies. She reflects on the nature of friendship, on her youthful belief in humankind’s essential goodness, and on her knee-jerk response to blame someone or something for malevolence. “Blaming was a comfort,” she writes, “and comfort was high on our scale of values….If villains could be found to blame for everything, then evil could be localized and kept in check, like an epidemic.” The idea of evil permeates her recollection of a shattering visit to Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners were held during apartheid. Two of the strongest essays focus on recent events: heart surgery to replace a valve, which generated months of severe depression; and her delicate parsing of love for a grandchild.
Although some pieces are slight, on the whole, reading Schwartz is like a pleasurable visit with a thoughtful and articulate friend.