An occasional look at classic reissues…
The Tree by
with a new introduction by Barry Lopez (Ecco: 94 pp., $13.99 paper) "The key to my fiction," wrote Fowles in 1979 when this essay was first published, "lies in my relationship with nature — I might almost have said, for reasons I will explain, in trees." "The Tree" is part memoir, part explanation and part warning, one of the most beautiful, succinct and prescient pieces of writing we have. Fowles grew up in a suburb of
. His father was a triumphant controller of what little nature the family possessed — apple and pear trees in the backyard were lovingly pruned. During
, the family moved to a Devonshire village and Fowles discovered his true reverence for woods and wilderness. Our habit of naming and classifying has distanced us from nature: Nothing is more "poetically just," he writes, than Linnaeus' insanity before his death. It's not so much nature that is in danger as our "attitude to it." Nature is the source of our creativity; our relationship to it is nothing less than an art form. "The Tree" ends with a memory of Wistman's Wood, a fragment of primeval forest, a "ur-wood" of
Oaks in Dartmoor. "My wood, my wood," he writes, "it never shall be yours."
The Mountain Lion by Jean Stafford (
Review Books: 240 pp., $14.95) Jean Stafford was born in Southern California, in
, in 1915, though much of her life was spent among the eastern literary elites. She narrowly survived marriage to
, then married Oliver Jensen, followed by A.J. Liebling. She wrote for the New Yorker, published three novels ("The Mountain Lion," 1947, was her second) and won a Pulitzer nine years before she died in 1979, for her "Collected Stories." Stafford has a dry desert style — you feel the stillness and the heat in her writing, the swish of palm trees, voices of children, the sounds of sweeping beneath walnut trees, the whir of hummingbirds. "The Mountain Lion" begins in Covina — a brother and sister, 10 and 8, have scarlet fever. They are sent, one summer, to their uncle's ranch in
, where they learn to ride and hunt and shake off some of their protective city layers. At first, they are "unable to take in the huge, snaggle-toothed mountain ranges that completely circled the valley where the ranch lay, alarmed by the rapid rushing sound of the river which they could not see, frightened by the steady commotion of animal noises." They are vulnerable and close when they arrive but come undone. In Ralph's hurry to become a man he inadvertently kills the things he loves. And there's no going back. Stafford can write a real nightmare, the kind in which everything looks ominous, words cause permanent scars and a character's one shot at happiness is dashed by his very own hands.