Authors & Events
Apr 01, 2003
| ISBN 9780345463630
Apr 01, 2003
| 101 Minutes
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Apr 01, 2003 | ISBN 9780345463630
Apr 01, 2003 | ISBN 9780739303047
Every evening at five o’clock, Christina and Rudy stopped work and began the ritual commonly known as Happy Hour. Rudy mixed Christina’s drink with loving precision, the cavalier slosh of Bombay Sapphire over ice shards, before settling across from her in his Stickley chair with his glass of Scotch. They shared a love of language and music (she is an author, he a composer, after all), a delight in intense conversation, a fascination with popes, and nearly thirty years of life together.What did I think, that we had forever? muses Christina, seven months after Rudy’s unexpected death. While coming to terms with her loss, with the space that Rudy once inhabited, Christina reflects on their vibrant bond—with all its quirks, habits, and unguarded moments—as well as her passionate sorrow and her attempts to reposition herself and her new place in the very real world they shared.In this literary jewel, a bittersweet novella of absence and presence and the mysterious gap between them, Gail Godwin has performed a small miracle. In essence, Evenings at Five is a grief sonata for solo instrument transposed into words. Interwoven with meditations and movements, full of aching truths and a wicked sense of humor, it exquisitely captures the cyclical nature of commitment—and the eternal quality of a romance completed.
Gail Godwin is a three-time National Book Award finalist and the bestselling author of twelve critically acclaimed novels, including A Mother and Two Daughters, Violet Clay, Father Melancholy’s Daughter, Evensong, The Good Husband, Queen of the Underworld, and Unfinished Desires…. More about Gail Godwin
“An unflinching account of love, loss, grief, and the struggle toward consolation. It should touch every reader with its emotional power.”—ELIZABETH SPENCER
A Conversation with Gail GodwinROB NEUFELDRob Neufeld is the book reviewer for the AshevilleCitizen-Times and director of the program “TogetherWe Read” in North Carolina. At present, he is editingvolume one of Gail Godwin’s diaries.Rob Neufeld: In Evenings at Five, as Christina beginsto commune with Rudy after his death, sheimagines how other authors would write a ghoststory about the experience. Then you write,“But this was Christina’s story, and if she forcedor .nessed anything, she might miss the secretwith her name on it.” The spirit world is an easysell for some, a hard sell for others. What areyour thoughts about it?Gail Godwin: My feelings about the spirit worldare stronger than ever. I don’t expect to see anyghosts of loved ones, but they do leave a vibrato.There’s the time when Christina gets a condolenceletter from someone who says that lovingsomeone after he has died is stronger becausethere’s less interference. The static of what thatperson needs from you, what you need fromhim, isn’t there. I wish I could write a ghoststory. Very few satisfy me, and I know there’s apossibility I could be satisfied.RN: Many stories about women visited byghosts are sad because the women can’t overcometheir grief and ultimately lose their preferencefor reality. Christina .nds a differentpath. Is she a hero?GG: She is—in that she keeps on living her lifein the sense of the quest. The event has madeher stronger through her knowledge about herlove and her knowledge that she is lovable. Ican’t think of a novel that portrays a positive relationshipwith a ghost. Oh, I can think ofone—The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. It’s corny, but itqualifies for what a ghost story should be.RN: What makes a good ghost story?GG: It can’t have any hokey hauntings or appearances.It has to grow out of the living person’shistory, perceptions, and needs. It can’t bein.icted on them. The ghost has to have livedwith them for a long time.RN: How does the ghost manifest itself ?GG: It can go several ways. This leftover lifethat refuses to die can inhabit the person and usethe living person as an instrument. It still doesn’tmean that an exterior thing has been planted inthem. It comes out of the living person’s needsand fears. In The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, Mrs. Muirarrives at a house as a widow. A big temptationfor a widow is to lose her preference for reality.What the attractive ghost does is get her backinto living life fully—smelling the sea. The saddestthing in the story is when the ghost talksabout the relationship they could have had if hehad been alive. D. H. Lawrence has a story—“The Borderline”—about a widow on a journeyto meet her lover. Her dead husband ruinsthe whole thing. He’s allowed to do so becauseshe has incorporated certain powerful qualitiesof his. She grows increasingly powerful, and hernew lover can’t bear it.RN: At the start of Evenings at Five, the readerfinds himself dropped into a domestic scene alreadyin progress. What is your relationship withreaders? How do you lure them into your stories?GG: This book didn’t start off by my trying tolure any readers. I just wanted to sit there in myhouse every night around .ve o’clock, listen toall the sounds, and evoke the cocktail hour. Afterfive pages, I had “tricked” myself into a newway of writing. It was a tempo, and I couldn’tgo wrong.RN: This gets us to talking about music. Youcompare Evenings at Five to a sonata. Could youelaborate on that?GG: A sonata has a certain form—a theme that’sstated, then a companion theme. The two themeshave a relationship. The sonata is resolved by movingor transforming into something that comes outof the materials, and yet is new. When Christinasits down in Rudy’s chair and decides to drink aglass of red wine, she remembers how the priesthad come to console her. She had asked him,“Where should I sit?” He said sit where you want,and she sits in Rudy’s chair. Then, at the sametime, she imagines herself on the sofa looking atRudy. She imagines his personality and then she isable to be both herself and Rudy at once and thento be the life that was made by the two of them.RN: Previous novels of yours involved religiousthought. Are you trying to create a religionthat not only works for you but also for themodern world?GG: You said that I’ve been on a decades-longsearch for a powerful and centering spirit. I am.I go to church because it connects me with thebeginning of my search at St. Mary’s [EpiscopalChurch in Asheville]. Tom Miller, the priest atSt. Gregory’s in Woodstock, said, “We might aswell learn to accept our inseparability fromGod.” One contains a relationship between oneselfand this Other—this powerful, centeringspirit. I just live with it; there’s no theorizing.There’s just working at that relationship.RN: In Evenings at Five, you say that Christinafelt Rudy’s presence more strongly once he wasabsent. One can then believe that with death,the sense of presence becomes everlasting.That’s the kind of religious thought a scientificperson can grasp. And then when the priest visitsChristina, what does he say?GG: He visits with a parishioner and he saysthe burial of.ce: “Hope that is seen is not hope.Why hope for what is already seen?”RN: Another good religious thought for a rationallyminded person.GG: There are some other good ones in Evensong[Godwin’s previous novel].RN: You know Paul Valéry’s saying, “Godmade everything out of nothing. But thenothingness shows through.” Do you agreewith this?GG: Something else shows through when youget to the bottom of nothingness. It’s like apiece of black cheesecloth. There’s a glow belowit. This would make a good painting. Youknow, I find so much out about my charactersby drawing them. [Some of Gail’s artwork canbe seen at www.gailgodwin.com.]RN: At the end of “Old Lovegood Girls,”Christina, having donated money to her almamater, says, “I . . . like the idea of some girl likemyself . . . knowing she may dream and studyand play the innocent ingénue a little longer.”Could you tell us a little more about being aningénue?GG: The ingénue is the girl who has all her optionsopen. She’s taken care of by others. There’stime to play, to read and study, to learn things.RN: Regarding your re.ections on childhood,to what extent do you identify with the ingénue?GG: I suddenly have the horrible feeling I’venever been an ingénue. I had a dream when I wasfive or six—I was on a front lawn of a house anda mammy was bathing a blond-haired boy. I creptup to the boy and said, “Splash her.” He does—and she comes crawling after me. I’ve always beenan instigator. I’ve never been an ingénue. I don’tthink I was ever innocent. The first time I wentto Sunday school, I came home and said I hadpushed a little boy down the stairs. My mothercalled the church. She was told that no little boyhad been pushed down the stairs.RN: In what ways is it different applying yourfiction writing to your own life rather than toinvented characters? Are there special risks andspecial rewards?GG: First, when I think I’m writing a memoir,I use fictional ploys and shapings, slipping in a .ctionhere and there. When I’m writing aboutother people, I’m writing about my internal castof characters. In memoirs and in fiction, I will doanything to get to the quickening moment.RN: The Christina stories are particularly candidand personal. In “Mother and DaughterGhosts, A Memoir,” you tell about your last timetogether with your mother before she died, whenyou felt threatened by her at a spirituality conference.You both had responded to an exercise bywhich you had to imagine yourselves meeting theking and queen of your psyches. In your mother’sscenario, she was the heroine admired by thequeen. In yours, you were snubbed by the queen.GG: It’s so funny and so horrible. I spent thelast hours before my fight on my mother’sporch, writing my criticisms of the conference,when I could have been spending precious timewith her.RN: That story stands as the only experiencewith your mother in the book, whereas in reallife, you had many, including ones that celebratethe joy you both felt—well, the joy you share atthe beginning of the “Mother and DaughterGhosts” story. Do you sometimes make yourselflaugh when you’re writing?GG: Something will happen in a scene, and I’llgiggle. My humor surprises me. I don’t plan it.RN: In chapter 5 of Evenings at Five, afterChristina returns home from the doctor followingher scary blindness episode, she takes downRudy’s and her “brown-at-the-edges” cartoon ofa woman saying to her snuggly mate, “I love thesequiet evenings at home battling alcoholism.” Nextshe disposes of all Rudy’s medications, and recallsthe party they attended shortly before his deathwhen Rudy, feeling time-pressured and exasperatedwith small talk about cabbages and Brusselssprouts, booms in his loud bass voice: “An outstandingcabbage would be a welcome addition tothis gathering.” The humor is necessary to lightenthe pain, isn’t it? If you go a distance in your storywithout humor, do you sense that?GG: Often during the course of remembering,you bump back and forth between painful andhumorous material. Christina has been shaken byher doctor’s term blotto, and comforts herself withGil Mallow’s recent remark that she and Rudymade a “formidable” couple, a description sheprefers to “blotto.” Thinking of the Mallows leadsher into the funny-awful memory of the dinnerparty where they met. Whenever I read that dinnerparty passage aloud, people burst out laughingand so do I. Yet at the time, Christina (and I!) sufferedagonies and was furious. But now, withRudy gone, she misses the individual force of hisawful moment, and she has this great insight thatcomforted me as I was writing the passage. Iquote from the book: “But now the absence ofthat force she could never quite modify or controlhas left an excavation in her life that cried out tobe filled with his most awful moments.”RN: A nightmare has a powerful effect onChristina in Evenings at Five. Dreams populateyour fiction and daydreams constantly mix in.Might we consider you an advocate of thedream world?GG: Jungian analysis is an ongoing graduatecourse for me about the one-third of my lifewhen I’m asleep. I could index the figures, settings,and cross-references. My dreams are defi-nitely a commentary on what my unconscious istrying to tell me—what’s being neglected andwhat’s being falsified.RN: Do bad guys have bad dreams?GG: Your dreams point to things you need topay attention to: “Hey, Macbeth, that forest ismoving toward your castle.”RN: In your preface, you say you envisionedstories that would pounce on “those places inChristina’s journey that mark a turning point forher.” Two stories portray experiences that precededthe deaths of your parents; and two otherstories, those of your priest and of Robert. Howcentral a concern is it to you to come up with ananswer to death?GG: I’m not trying to come up with an answerto death. I’m trying to engage with death.Death is not an enemy at all; it’s a room I haven’tbeen allowed into yet. The barriers may openinto unexpected landscapes.RN: Do you plan on adding Christina storiesto future editions of Evenings at Five?GG: This is by no means a finished product. Ihave other Christina stories. Eventually, Eveningsat Five will stand by itself again. When my editorhad called me to say that Evenings at Five wouldbe coming out in paperback and would lookthin, she asked, “Do you have anything else?” Isent her the Christina stories I had. When I addnew Christina stories, the whole new book willbe called The Passion of Christina and will havestories that go from childhood to old age—abouttwenty-five stories.
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