The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty

9780062110916_p0_v2_s192x300Have you ever dreamed of driving off into the sunset, changing your name, and disappearing?  In Vendela Vida’s The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty, a theft in Morocco triggers a series of identity swaps for an American tourist.

Using the mysterious and exotic setting of Casablanca and focusing on all travelers’ paranoia of losing valuables (Rick Steves’ hidden security pouch sells well), Vida slyly manipulates the story line, drawing the reader into seemingly innocuous events.  The thirty-something woman (we never do know her real name) morphs from a harried Florida traveler on an economy trip to staying at a posh hotel as Sabine Alyse, when the local police replace her stolen backpack with someone else’s.  Her adventure continues when she is tapped to be a stand-in for a famous American movie star who is filming at the location.  A final bus trip out-of-town reveals her true identity when fellow Floridians on holiday recognize her – the past is hard to escape.

The reason for her trip remains unclear until the end, when her dark secrets are revealed.  I didn’t see it coming, and I won’t spoil it for you, but the reasons for her erratic behavior are not jet lag.

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Read It Again, Sam

 As this year comes to an end, you may be looking back at those books you read; maybe you’ll consider reading them again?

In his essay for the New York Times Book Review – Read It Again, Sam –  David Bowman identifies famous authors who reread books – for inspiration, for motivation, to identify a structure to follow, to discover nuances, or just in awe of great writing…

“The biographer and novelist Edmund White {notes}: ‘I reread in order to remind myself how good you have to be in order to be any good at all.’ “

Stephen King regularly rereads The Lord of the Flies and The Lord of the Rings; Helen DeWitt (The Last Samurai) started her rereads with The Nancy Drew Series; Patti Smith, winner of the National Book Award for nonfiction rereads An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter, reasoning that rereading is a necessity, echoing a familiar complaint of mine:

“…I get so absorbed that upon finishing I don’t remember anything…”

 I shy away from rereading most books, preferring to move on to the next adventure.  If I do reread a book, I may understand more or “build impressions.”  I may even remember more as I finish reading a second time, but I agree with French literary theorist Roland Barthes in The Pleasure of the Text:

“…{rereading may cause pleasure}, but not my bliss: bliss may come only with the absolutely new…”

Do you have books you regularly reread?

Just Kids – Patti Smith

Sometime in the seventies, when I was asleep, Patti Smith made history with her punk rock and Robert Maplethorpe captured the world with his raw, controversial art.  I missed it, and so I read Patti Smith’s memoir Just Kids, hoping to find out why her winning the National Book Award should be so strange.

In a quiet poetic voice Patti Smith, the “godmother of punk,”  recalls her childhood – a quiet sickly girl who loved to read…

“I reflected on the fact that no matter how good I aspired to be, I was never going to achieve perfection.”

And her life with Robert who “contained, even at an early age, a stirring and the desire to stir…” –  before they were both famous.

As I read Smith’s thoughts, it was not always easy to be there with her in New York City, and I could not help thinking how choices make a life.  It was amazing she survived those early years; Robert did not.   How she remembers so much – more than enough for a memoir – may be due to the constant trauma in her life, sprinkled with the “greats” she met – Allen Ginsberg, Janis Joplin, Andy Warhol, William Burroughs, her relationship with Sam Shephard…

Just Kids is cathartic for the writer; voyeuristic for the reader – and a eulogy to Robert Maplethorpe.

Robert and I had explored the frontier of our work and created space for each other.

I couldn’t always look too closely, sometimes skimming over the hustling and hedonism, but now I know why the National Book Foundation committee awarded Patti Smith.