STAY HERE WITH ME
With a simplicity of language belying a deeply rich and subtle imagery, novelist Olmstead (American by Land, 1993, etc.) produces a variegated narrative, dreamlike in its reflection of passing youth yet rooted in the earthy prose of farm life, and always achingly hued by an 18-year-old's nascent awareness of mortality. "Memory is always more true to the present mind than to the past," writes Olmstead, "always more true to itself than to anything else." Looking back at his life on his grandfather's New Hampshire dairy farm, Olmstead presents that late adolescent moment when change was imminent but just barely forestalled. Soon to come would be the untimely deaths of his two childhood friends, his father's passing following a long unhappy spiral of alcoholism and failed rehabilitation, and the slow, cancerous death of his grandfather. But also here is Olmstead's initiatory, bittersweet love affair, often described in synesthetic terms, as is much of this perceptive account: "I knew no one who spoke as she did, knew no one whose words were like touch." As can only be fathomed by the adult narrator, there are impending changes in the younger man's life, although the teenager has the wit to infer these changes in the aging of the old farm hands, the dismantling of an ancient grain silo, and the final gathering of his grandfather's siblings on word of the old man's disease. The daily prosaisms among the family and with the hired help are gently humorous yet ineluctably tinged with regret over the transience of familiar things. As the teenager gazes upon his love, he notes, "And then I'd remember how we were in a seam of life on this very day and would soon be pulled from it by our ambitions, by the roads we were on." Written with great-hearted love and compassion in a language full of human longing and frailty, this is a book for anyone who was once young.