I took a walk with my friend Kelly Powers the other day, and as usual, we talked about books: what we've read lately, what we recommend, what we've thrown across the room. This time, we discussed the act of reading itself, and what a welcome refuge it can be. In that sense, all engrossing reading is "escapist," and hurray for that. Coincidentally, I had just finished Let the Great World Spin, which won last year's National Book Award for fiction, and had even typed up the quote below, in which a character from my escapist novel describes her own great refuge: opera.
Colum McCann's beautiful novel takes us into the worlds of several vastly different people in 1974 New York. One of them is Gloria, who lives in a god-awful housing project in the South Bronx (across from where several other female characters ply their trade), mourning the loss of her three sons, in Vietnam. It eased my heart, toward the end, to read how she had found respite, over the years, from such stress and pain. She doesn't need an orchestra seat, or even to be in the opera house, she tells us. All she needs is the balm of a resplendent voice:
"Everything falls into the hands of music eventually. The only thing that ever rescued me was listening to a big voice. There are years accumulated in a sound. I took to listening on the radio every Sunday and spent whatever extra grief money the government gave me on tickets to the Metropolitan. I felt like I had a room full of voices. The music pouring out over the Bronx. I sometimes turned the stereo so loud the neighbors complained. I bought earphones. Huge ones that covered half my head. I wouldn't even look at myself in the mirror. But there was a medicine in it."
Yes, and there are years accumulated in a sound.