It takes more than the ordinary journalistic literary skills to come up with an opener like this:
In the geography of the arts, Canadian is to American as Irish is to English and Jewish is to everyone. Social imitators by proximity, but intellectual ironists by distance, Canadians are the same as Americans, but more so—more obviously stranded in the wilderness because there is so much of it and so few of them, and more similar in politics to the Old World than the New. Their Liberals are centrists, not leftists ashamed of their leftism, and their Conservatives are even Tories.
…a gem of taut prose, I’d say, setting up a sharp critique of the (overpraised) Saul Bellow, by Dominic Green, whose taste also runs to some of the best jazz. The paragraph’s formal interlocking and anticipatory pulse has a little in common with the technical facility and improvisatory chops of a Dave Brubeck.
Or, in a complete change of mood, the closing paragraph of the first chapter of Dombey and Son. In fact, the very last line in it:
..the little voice, familiar and dearly loved, awakened some show of consciousness, even at that ebb. For a moment, the closed eye lids trembled, and the nostril quivered, and the faintest shadow of a smile was seen.
‘Mama!’ cried the child sobbing aloud. ‘Oh dear Mama! oh dear Mama!’
The Doctor gently brushed the scattered ringlets of the child, aside from the face and mouth of the mother. Alas how calm they lay there; how little breath there was to stir them!
Thus, clinging fast to that slight spar within her arms, the mother drifted out upon the dark and unknown sea that rolls round all the world.
To be repeated in a sad variation, at the end of chapter 16, when the Son, Paul, dies:
‘Now lay me down,’ he said, ‘and, Floy, come close to me, and let me see you!’Sister and brother wound their arms around each other, and the golden light came streaming in, and fell upon them, locked together.‘How fast the river runs, between its green banks and the rushes, Floy! But it’s very near the sea. I hear the waves! They always said so!’
Presently he told her the motion of the boat upon the stream was lulling him to rest. How green the banks were now, how bright the flowers growing on them, and how tall the rushes! Now the boat was out at sea, but gliding smoothly on. And now there was a shore before him. Who stood on the bank?—He put his hands together, as he had been used to do at his prayers. He did not remove his arms to do it; but they saw him fold them so, behind her neck.
‘Mama is like you, Floy. I know her by the face! But tell them that the print upon the stairs at school is not divine enough. The light about the head is shining on me as I go!’
The golden ripple on the wall came back again, and nothing else stirred in the room. The old, old fashion! The fashion that came in with our first garments, and will last unchanged until our race has run its course, and the wide firmament is rolled up like a scroll. The old, old fashion—Death!
Oh thank GOD, all who see it, for that older fashion yet, of Immortality! And look upon us, angels of young children, with regards not quite estranged, when the swift river bears us to the ocean!
You might find that mawkish, but to me it captures the ineffable strangeness of what is taking place in the mind of a dying person – we can only glimpse it, despite its inevitable role for each one of us. Dickens’ rare gift takes us to the bedside. As music, it’s a Beethoven late quartet, or one of Schubert’s extraordinarily powerful sad, slow, second movements in a piano sonata – D850 perhaps.
Completely different, but just as vivid, with a hard edged resonance identifiable with cool jazz, I’d suggest, is Raymond Chandler:
There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge.
…taken from Red Wind, and I’m not the only one who finds it carries an almost impossible to define extra layer of meaning and precision. It is the West Coast of Shelly Manne and his era…
A lot of people think like this – certain forms bring to mind unbidden parallels in other fields, classically synesthesia, or a variation on it. Over to Wikipedia:
… a perceptual phenomenon in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway.
There’s no message here, just an observation on the extended gifts provided by reading and music.