A selection of my favourite passages from the book
THE OCTOBER COUNTRY . . . that country where it is always turning late in the year. That country where the hills are fog and the rivers are mist; where noons go quickly, dusks and twilights linger, and midnights stay. That country composed in the main of cellars, sub-cellars, coalbins, closets, attics, and pantries faced away from the sun. That country whose people are autumn people, thinking only autumn thoughts. Whose people passing at night on the empty walks sound like rain…
- Two customers had passed through an hour before. Those two lonely people were now in the roller coaster, screaming murderously as it plummeted down the blazing night, around one emptiness after another.
The Next in Line
- She did not think it unusual, her choice of the feminine pronoun. Already she had identified herself with that tiny fragment parceled like an unripe variety of fruit. Now, in this moment, she was being carried up the hill within compressing darkness, a stone in a peach, silent and terrified, the touch of the father against the coffin material outside; gentle and noiseless and firm inside.
- In order for a thing to be horrible it has to suffer a change you can recognize.
- They looked as if they had leaped, snapped upright in their graves, clutched hands over their shriveled bosoms and screamed, jaws wide, tongues out, nostrils flared. And been frozen that way.
- The fearful ricochet of vision, growing, growing, taking impetus from swollen breast to raving mouth, wall to wall, wall to wall, again, again, like a ball hurled in a game, caught in the incredible teeth, spat in a scream across the corridor to be caught in claws, lodged between thin teats, the whole standing chorus invisibly chanting the game on, on, the wild game of sight recoiling, rebounding, reshuttling on down the inconceivable procession, through a montage of erected horrors that ended finally and for all time when vision crashed against the corridor ending with one last scream from all present!
- How talented was death. How many expressions and manipulations of hand, face, body, no two alike.
- Her mouth opened and closed. The shop had a veil over it, in her eyes. Here she was and here were these small baked adobe people to whom she could say nothing and from whom she could get no words she understood, and she was in a town of people who said no words to her and she said no words to them except in blushing confusion and bewilderment. And the town was circled by desert and time, and home was far away, far away in another life. She whirled and fled.
- But there was no word and the veins did not rest easy in the wrists and the heart was a bellows forever blowing upon a little coal of fear, forever illumining and making it into a cherry light, again, pulse, and again, an ingrown light which her inner eyes stared upon with unwanting fascination.
- “If I had a religion,” she said, ignoring him, “I’d have a lever with which to lift myself. But I haven’t a lever now and I don’t know how to lift myself.”
The Watchful Poker Chip of H. Matisse
- Here lay a typical Garvey silence. Here sat the largest manufacturer and deliverer of silences in the world; name one, he could provide it packaged and tied with throat-clearings and whispers. Embarrassed, pained, calm, serene, indifferent, blessed, golden, or nervous silences; Garvey was in there.
- They didn’t want opinions on alchemy and symbolism given in a piccolo voice, Garvey’s subconscious warned him. They only wanted Garvey’s good old-fashioned plain white bread and churned country butter, to be chewed on later at a dim bar, exclaiming how priceless!
- She had a way of dancing into any room, her body doing all sorts of soft, agreeable things to keep her feet from ever quite touching the nap of a rug.
- Harris stood. His SKELETON held him up! This thing inside, this invader, this horror, was supporting his arms, legs, and head! It was like feeling someone just behind you who shouldn’t be there. With every step, he realized how dependent he was on this other Thing.
- Well, consider the skeleton; slender, svelte, economical of line and contour. Exquisitely carved oriental ivory! Perfect, thin as a white praying mantis!
- It was getting late. The merry-go-round drowsed down to a lazy mechanical tinkle.
- It seemed to Charlie that Tom Carmody was forever installed under porches in shadow, or under trees in shadow, or if in a room, then in the farthest niche shining his eyes out at you from the dark. You never knew what his face was doing, and his eyes were always funning you. And every time they looked at you they laughed a different way.
- After a period of proper silence, someone, maybe old Gramps Medknowe from Crick Road, would clear the phlegm from a deep cave somewhere inside himself, lean forward, blinking, wet his lips, maybe, and there’d be a curious tremble in his calloused fingers. This would cue everyone to get ready for the talking to come. Ears were primed. People settled like sows in the warm mud after a rain.
- Juke nodded his head now, eyes bright, young, seeing into the past, making it new, shaping it with words, smoothing it with his tongue.
- For too many years her hips had been the pendulum by which he reckoned the time of his living. But other men, Tom Carmody, for one, were reckoning time from the same source.
- A train has a poor memory; it soon puts all behind
- Like a memory, a train works both ways. A train can bring rushing back all those things you left behind so many years before.
Touched with Fire
- With luck, a potential victim might not happen to cross the tracks of a potential murderer for fifty years. Then–one afternoon–fate! These people, these death-prones, touch all the wrong nerves in passing strangers; they brush the murder in all our breasts.
The Small Assassin
- Then, far away, wailing like some small meteor dying in the vast inky gulf of space, the baby began to cry in his nursery.
- “What is more at peace, more dreamfully content, at ease, at rest, fed, comforted, unbothered, than an unborn child? Nothing. It floats in a sleepy, timeless wonder of nourishment and silence. Then, suddenly, it is asked to give up its berth, is forced to vacate, rushed out into a noisy, uncaring, selfish world where it is asked to shift for itself, to hunt, to feed from the hunting, to seek after a vanishing love that once was its unquestionable right, to meet confusion instead of inner silence and conservative slumber! And the child resents it! Resents the cold air, the huge spaces, the sudden departure from familiar things. And in the tiny filament of brain the only thing the child knows is selfishness and hatred because the spell has been rudely shattered.
- He looked through the cold morning windows with the Jack-in-the-Box in his hands, prying the rusted lid. But no matter how he struggled, the Jack would not jump to the light with a cry, or slap its velvet mittens on the air, or bob in a dozen directions with a wild and painted smile. Crushed under the lid, in its jail, it stayed crammed tight coil on coil. With your ear to the box, you felt pressure beneath, the fear and panic of the trapped toy.
- In the hail, on her way downstairs, Mother dropped a champagne bottle. Edwin heard and was cold, for the thought that jumped through his head was, that’s how Mother’d sound. If she fell, if she broke, you’d find a million fragments in the morning.
The Man Upstairs
- Douglas felt a pure white flame of hatred burn inside himself with a steady, unflickering beauty. Now that room was Koberman Land. Once it had been flowery bright when Miss Sadlowe lived there. Now it was stark, bare, cold, clean, everything in its place, alien and brittle.
The Wonderful Death of Dudley Stone
- “But John Oatis said quite seriously: ‘I’m going to kill you, Mr. Stone.'” “What did you do?” “Do? I sat there, stunned, riven; I heard a terrible slam! the coffin lid in my face! I heard coal down a black chute; dirt on my buried door. They say all your past hurtles by at such times. Nonsense. The future does.”
- “Writing was always so much mustard and gallweed to me; fidgeting words on paper, experiencing vast depressions of heart and soul. Watching the greedy critics graph me up, chart me down, slice me like sausage, eat me at midnight breakfasts. Work of the worst sort. I was ready to fling the pack. My trigger was set. Boom! There was John Oatis! Look here.”
- I had been writing about living. Now I wanted to live. Do things instead of tell about things. I ran for the board of education. I won. I ran for alderman. I won. I ran for Mayor. I won! Sheriff! Town librarian! Sewage disposal official. I shook a lot of hands, saw a lot of life, did a lot of things. We’ve lived every way there is to live, with our eyes and noses and mouths, with our ears and hands.