A couple months ago I read Paul Auster’s memoir, Winter Journal, a book I found so stunningly good that I didn’t really know how to talk about it. So many of the passages really struck me, but there’s one that hasn’t stopped ringing in my head since I read it.
So there you were lying in bed in your upstairs room, certain that your crippled dog was safely tethered to his runner in the backyard, when a sudden volley of loud noises burst in on the quiet: a screech of tires in front of your house, immediately followed by a high-pitched howl of pain, the howl of a dog in pain, and from the sound of that dog’s voice, you instantly knew that it was your dog. You jumped out of bed and ran outside, and there was the Brat, the Monster, confessing to you that he had unhooked your dog from his leash because he “wanted to play with him,” and there was the man who had been driving the car, a much rattled and deeply upset man, saying to the people who had gathered around him that he had no choice, that the boy and the dog ran straight into the middle of the street, and it was either hit the boy or hit the dog, so he swerved and hit the dog, and there was your dog, your mostly white dog lying dead in the middle of the black street, and as you picked him up and carried him into the house, you told yourself no, the man was wrong, he should have hit the boy and not the dog, he should have killed the boy, and so angry were you at the boy for what he had done to your dog, you did not stop to consider that this was the first time you had ever wished that another human being were dead.
It’s not particularly the very long (but grammatically correct!) sentences or the use of second person narration (amazingly, deftly used to suck you closer into Auster’s life) that draws me to this passage. No, Auster uses those techniques over the course of the whole book.
What really stuck in my head here is the absolutely true emotion of the moment, the purely hateful feeling of wanting someone to die because of what they’ve done to you that no one wants to admit to, but which most people have probably felt. Auster laid it the feeling down without shame, acknowledging it almost as an afterthought, and I related to it instantly.
I don’t read a lot of nonfiction, but when I do, this is what I like to see.