This is the next installment of my grandmother’s unpublished manuscript, Landscape With Figures:
“I’m usually a few years, or several years, behind time in catching up with the books I mean ti read. It has one advantage – with the passage of time you find you have lost the urge to read several of them and can cross them off the list without a qualm. One I’m glad I didn’t cross off is William Gibson’s A Mass for the Dead.
This memoir of his parents, this autobiography, confession, apology – however one looks upon it – might so easily have been nothing but a nostalgic indulgence, a sentimental revery. On the contrary it’s a lust, gusty, gutsy, honest, passionate, humorous, tender account of two ‘ordinary’ people whom the author didn’t appreciate until after their death.
I relished the magnificent rhythmic power and flow of the prose. It’s a book to be read as much with the muscles as the eyes and the mind.
Prose rhythms are like dance rhythms. I get the same exhilaration out of reading a style like Gibson’s as I do out of watching a good, strong male dancer – the muscles move beneath the sentences the way they move beneath the dancer’s skin. I can enjoy lyric styles, too. I can ‘identify’ with them if they are truly and deeply felt. A style that is coy, dainty, overprettified sets my teeth on edge the same way a similar style of dancing does. I can enjoy a terse, staccato rhythm in prose or dance if it’s basically strong and carries a weight of meaning; otherwise, it gives me a sensation similar to jolting over a rough road on the back of a motorcycle.
I wonder that the movies have not taken more advantage of the value of rhythm. There are exceptions, of course, such as Ingmar Bergman, who understands its power. I think of that love scene, or more properly lust scene, in Wild Strawberries. The man was shown approaching the woman with the calculated maneuvers of a tomcat – stealthy advance alternating with pause or feigned retreat but all the time drawing a little closer to his intention, while the woman vacillated between provocation and rejection. She giggle hysterically, became abruptly serious, pretended to be angry, became truly frightened, cried, swayed dizzily and then at last, in the moment he fell upon her with abrupt violence, collapsed in helpless desire. Move by move the couple enacted the scene with the rhythm of timing of cats preparing to mate. It was this that brought out the animality of the episode so effectively.
None of the people to whom I mentioned it had noticed it, which is a measure of Bergman genius that he did not make the analogy obvious. Even though he is an artist acutely sensitive to moods and rhythms, it is possible that he himself did not consciously base the scene on the sexual behavior of cats. I suspect he probably realized what he was doing before the scene was finished, though, and then deliberately exploited it.”