“A sudden wind rustled through the birches; a gust of yellow leaves came storming down. I took a sip of my drink. If I had grown up in that house I couldn’t have loved it more, couldn’t have been more familiar with the creak of the swing, or the pattern of the clematis vines on the trellis, or the velvety swell of land as it faded to gray on the horizon, and the strip of highway visible — just barely — in the hills, beyond the trees. The very colors of the place had seeped into my blood: just as Hampden, in subsequent years, would always present itself immediately to my imagination in a confused whirl of white and green and red, so the country house first appeared as a glorious blur of watercolors, of ivory and lapis blue, chestnut and burnt orange and gold, separating only gradually into the boundaries of remembered objects: the house, the sky, the maple trees. But even that day, there on the porch, with Charles beside me and the smell of wood smoke in the air, it had the quality of a memory; there it was, before my eyes, and yet too beautiful to believe.
It was getting dark; soon it would be time for dinner. I finished my drink in a swallow. The idea of living there, of not having to go back ever again to asphalt and shopping malls and modular furniture; of living there with Charles and Camilla and Henry and Francis and maybe even Bunny; of no one marrying or going home or getting a job in a town a thousand miles away or doing any of the traitorous things friends do after college; of everything remaining exactly as it was, that instant — the idea was so truly heavenly that I’m not sure I thought, even then, it could ever really happen, but I like to believe I did.
Charles looked at me sideways. ‘So, what about you?’ he said.
‘What do you mean?’
‘I mean, do you have any plans?’ He laughed. ‘What are you doing for the next forty or fifty years of your life?’
Out on the lawn, Bunny had just knocked Henry’s ball about seventy feet outside the court. There was a ragged burst of laughter; faint, but clear, it floated back across the evening air.
That laughter haunts me still.”
From the novel The Secret History by Donna Tartt.
A girl recommended this book to me last fall, but I laughed off her advice: “I’ll never read a 750 page book written by someone named ‘Donna’.” But this summer, as I lazied with some friends through a used book shop in Chiang Mai, Thailand, I saw the title on a spine, picked up the book, and didn’t put it down.
This quote comes at the end of the first act of the story. The novel tells you, in its first sentence, that Bunny is eventually murdered, and murdered by his friends, the other characters — you just don’t know how or why. So it’s a murder mystery in reverse. Its depiction of college life, of afternoons spent like the one described above, is spot on, too.