Reading books assigned in class were always bittersweet to me. It made me secretly dislike the books, maybe because I was being forced to read them. However it wasn’t until my senior year of college when I found a book that made me regret that thought.
In a contemporary literature course with one of my more favored teachers (partially because he was a very easy-going professor who enjoyed reading to the class and making our lives a little easier) we were assigned books based on the genre of apocalyptic tales. Titles included the well known bestseller, The Road by Cormac McCarthy, a native American tale Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko, and the one that opened my eyes to accepting assigned reading:
Into the Forest by Jean Hegland
This novel was written with outstanding detail and descriptions that I can only hope to emulate in my writing as I continue.
With this being said I have only recently looked into further Jean Hegland novels. Minutes ago I ordered her novel Windfalls and found myself immediately entranced by her writing having only read the preface. I would like to include it below with all due acknowledgement to Jean Hegland and her remarkable descriptive and emotionally stirring writing abilities. Please note, this is simply a description of a folded photograph; let the emotional, vivid language take over.
Atree stands on a windswept hillside. Alone between the darkening heavens and the stony earth, it raises bloom-filled branches toward the sky. A low sun kindles the storm clouds that brood above it, warms the wood of its broken trunk, ignites the blossoms that cram its gnarled limbs.
The tree has been split almost in two—perhaps by lightning, perhaps by wind, or by the weight of its own fruit in some too-fecund autumn long ago. Half of it now sprawls unflowering along the ground. But the living half of the tree still reaches skyward, its limbs so cloaked in bloom that the blossoms seem to hover in the storm-charged air. White flowers cluster on even the smallest twig, and in the photograph each bloom shines like a candle flame.
It is that cloud of flower-light that first draws the eye. Soaring and trapped beneath the glowering sky, that unlikely multitude of blossoms holds the viewer cupped inside a single moment. Gazing at it, a viewer may be transformed, turned from an onlooker into a witness—and, perhaps, from a witness into a partner.
It is a lovely photograph, even a stunning one. Large but not huge, it has been printed full-frame on double-weight matte paper, and its velvet blacks, its pewter grays, its whites as rich as satin all attest to the craft—and maybe the heart—of its maker. But the purest white on the photograph is not the living white of storm light through apple petals, not the roiling brightness of slant-lit clouds. Instead it is the dead white gash that runs the length of the print—from ominous sky to bloom-laden branches and down through the rocky earth.
Someone has folded the photograph in half. Someone has folded it as if it were a letter or a newspaper clipping, and that fold has cracked the print’s emulsion and left a long unhealing scar in its wake. It is shocking to see that photograph defiled. But the longer one studies it, the more one wonders.
Spread flat, the print buckles and curls, its corners bent, its edges worn. It appears to have been folded and unfolded so many times that the white crease now seems almost like a hinge. Simply by looking, it is impossible to say whether the photograph has been rescued or ruined, impossible to know if the person who last held it in her hands considered it a treasure or would have called it trash. But gazing at that marred and glowing image, a viewer—or a partner—might have to ask whether it hasn’t served some purpose, after all.
Hegland, Jean. Windfalls: A Novel. New York: Atria, 2004. Print.