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Donna Tartt

“The weekends at Francis’s house were the happiest times. The trees turned early that fall but the days stayed warm well into October, and in the country we spent most of our time outside…

It was always a tremendous occasion if Julian accepted an invitation to dinner in the country. Francis would order all kinds of food from the grocery store and leaf through cookbooks and worry for days about what to serve, what wine to serve with it, which dishes to use, what to have in the wings as a backup course should the soufflé fall. Tuxedos went to the cleaners; flowers came from the florists; Bunny put away his copy of The Bride of Fu Manchu and started carrying around a volume of Homer instead…

Though, at the time, I found those dinners wearing and troublesome, now I find something very wonderful in my memory of them: that dark cavern of a room, with vaulted ceilings and a fire crackling in the fireplace, our faces luminous somehow, and ghostly pale. The firelight magnified our shadows, glinted off the silver, flickered high upon the walls; its reflection roared orange in the windowpanes as if a city were burning outside. The whoosh of the flames was like a flock of birds, trapped and beating in a whirlwind near the ceiling. And I wouldn’t have been at all surprised if the long mahogany banquet table, draped in linen, laden with china and candles and fruit and flowers, had simply vanished into thin air, like a magic casket in a fairy story.

There is a recurrent scene from those dinners that surfaces again and again, like an obsessive undercurrent in a dream. Julian, at the head of the long table, rises to his feet and lifts his wineglass. ‘Live forever,’ he says.

And the rest of us rise too, and clink our glasses across the table, like an army regiment crossing sabres: Henry and Bunny, Charles and Francis, Camilla and I. ‘Live forever,’ we chorus, throwing our glasses back in unison.

And always, always, that same toast. Live forever.”

__________

A slice of high neo-romantic writing from the close of act one of Donna Tartt’s spellbinding debut novel The Secret History.

Reading Tartt, who was born in Greenwood, Mississippi and whose prose percolates with an impeccably controlled energy, I’m again struck by the talent of writers from that state, which has long had the lowest literacy rate in the country. Especially when read on the heels of Mr. Foote, a Greenville, Mississippi native who grew up next to Walker Percy, her work will make you think there’s gotta be something in the water.

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