Bile Blackened Bitterness

As a child, I exalted the library as a veritable heaven of the imagination. Golden light blazed through small round windows and shafted onto stories by Laura Ingalls Wilder and Beverly Clearly, Judy Blume and EB White. My mom would only take me once every two weeks, when the books were due, as it was a 30 minute drive into town, so I maxed out my limit every time, pulling books off the shelves like a hungry teen in a convenient store snack aisle.

My love affair with libraries has been on again/off again, but today I trepidaciously stepped inside our local version of the book lender to find some audio books as well as the Shreve novel I’ve been looking for.

The colors danced off the glossy covers as they lay supine on the angled shelves of new fiction. I spotted the Shreve book right away, the only one checked in out of eight–what luck! I grasped the slender volume, slick with its plastic cover, then my eyes spotted this:

Memoirs of a Muse

Black clouds should have gathered, lightening striking at startling intervals, and the sky should have gone dark.

But these things didn’t happen. Finding this book only mattered to me. Only my heart was pierced.

I sat in the car line to pick up the girls and read the first 15 pages–for of course I checked it out. As I waited the wind rattled through the treees like old bones.

I felt lukewarm about it. It unfolded slowly, a bit bitingly. According to Amazon, it came out five months ago, so it was written last year, well before I even conceived my almost identical story line.

I feel much like I did after completing First Lessons, my book about teaching, and realizing a wave had begun for a book called Dangerous Minds. By the time I landed an agent and we were submitting to actual publishers, the movie was coming, a TV series slated. My book seemed silly and flat compared to it. The agent believed in it, and the publishers liked the writing, but still, all no, no, no, no. Once a book has been shopped around, it is dead. You can’t submit it any more lest you annoy them to the point of wrecking your reputation.

My life has proven rather ill timed again, like I’m dancing with a peg leg, falling just behind every beat, sliding clumsily before the audience I long to charm.

Her book is getting good reviews. She’s been published in the New Yorker. Her previous short story collection is lauded as brilliant.

I don’t want to play any more.

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