Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Caves of Oregon by Benjamin Percy

 I went to bed wide awake last night.  In the past couple of years I would have watched a TV show streamed on Hulu or a movie on Netflix' Watch Instantly, but we've resolved to keep digital devices out of the bedroom in the new house.  Which is great as I've read before going to sleep for most of my life and I'm glad I didn't lose that pleasurable discipline after a long period of succumbing to more passive methods of enjoying stories.
One thing I'll say about Percy is he not a writer to soothe and prepare and his reader for slumber.  I don't want togive away much at all about Refresh, Refresh's second story.  There's a conceit/invention that is truly unique, at once commonplace and absolutely absurd.  Throughout the story, even now, it had me wondering if it could really exist.  I suppose it could.  No, not a chance.  My mind still ping-pongs on the possibilities of that particular detail.
I will give away, as does its title, that the story involves a cave.  Last summer while camping in Tumalo, we visited the Newberry National Volcanic Monument which is home to the longest lava tube in Oregon.  (approximately one mile long, crossing under Hwy 97)  It's cool and dark down there.  You scramble over some craggy sections, wind through others and climb and down steps, some natural and others man-made.  There are portions as wide and as tall as a gymnasium.  I've also visited Carlsbad Caverns.  Newberry's lava tube is much more humble an attraction, but shares with Carlsbad the safe feeling of being in the deep, dark underground with many fellow tourists.  I don't much care for being amongst a group of chattering fools, so I create a safe distance from there compulsive  and inane babbling, but I do like knowing I am not alone down there.
In Percy's story the characters are indeed alone down there.  As I traveled with them I was sometimes driven to nervous distraction wondering if perhaps the rest of his stories might be better read in the morning.

I'm reading Percy for pleasure, to become more familiar with contemporary fiction and to absorb something of his craft for my own writing.  I was so absorbed that I will need to read The Caves of Oregon a few more times to absorb some of the latter.  One thing I notice is that his authorial stance is really really close to the characters even in the third person.  He puts us right in the room and the cave as it were.  And as I mentioned regarding Refresh, Refresh, this would be Stephen King or Peter Straub type stuff were it not for his lyricism.  He's got a very light touch to counterbalance his heavy subjects.  Very worthy of studying.

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