Tuesday, July 15, 2014
The Strange, Sweet Peace of Zane Grey
When I pay three dollars for a book at the Brimfield Antique Fair, I do not have a collector’s mindset. I am a reader who has stumbled upon an opening paragraph he likes:
When Madeline Hammond stepped from the train at El Cajon, New Mexico, it was nearly midnight, and her first impression was of a huge dark space of cool, windy emptiness, strange and silent, stretching away under great blinking white stars.
The vendor sitting by herself in the rear of her tent is almost invisible between two display tables. Visor over her eyes, she bends over a book of her own. Her tennis shoes rest squarely on the ground in front of her webbed lawn chair.
She remembered one evening at the opera when the curtain had risen upon a particularly well-done piece of stage scenery—a broad space of deep desolateness, reaching away under an infinitude of night sky, illumined by stars. The suggestion it brought of vast wastes of lonely, rugged earth, of a great, blue-arched vault of starry sky, pervaded her soul with a strange, sweet peace.
The only books on display in this vendor’s tent on the Brimfield grounds are vintage hardcover editions of westerns by Zane Grey. Otherwise her wares are sets of tumblers and ceramic pottery and leather shoulder bags, ashtrays and figurines.
There is no apology for her wares in the tilt of her neck as she reads. Neither gregarious nor sullen, she looks up as I count out three dollar bills. I have placed a copy of The Light of Western Stars on the table next to her.
She was sated with respect, sick of admiration, tired of adulation; and it was good to see that these Western women treated her as very likely they would have treated any other visitor. They were sweet, kind; and what Madeline had at first thought was a lack of expression or vitality she soon discovered to be the natural reserve of women who did not live superficial lives.
Back home, I sit with my purchase and settle into a read of the first four chapters. The pages of the 1914 novel are soft with age. The box fan on the floor across from me makes a comfortable sound at its lowest setting. I feel like the Easterner getting off the train in El Cajon, New Mexico.
She became conscious of the faint, unmistakable awakening of long-dead feelings—enthusiasm and delight. When she realized that, she breathed deep of the cold, sharp air and experienced an inward joy. And she divined then, though she did not know why, that henceforth there was to be something new in her life, something she had never felt before, something good for her soul in the homely, the commonplace, the natural, and the wild.