When I began writing The Night Bookmobile, it was a story about a woman's secret life as a reader. As I worked it also became a story about the claims that books place on their readers, the imbalance between our inner and outer lives, a cautionary tale of the seductions of the written word. It became a vision of the afterlife as a library, of heaven as a funky old camper filled with everything you've ever read. What is this heaven? What is it we desire from the hours, weeks, lifetimes we devote to books? What would you sacrifice to sit in that comfy chair with perfect light for an afternoon in eternity, reading the perfect book, forever?
Have you ever found your heart's desire and then lost it? I had seen myself, a portrait of myself as a reader. My childhood: days home sick from school reading Nancy Drew, forbidden books read secretively late at night. Teenage years reading -trying to read- books I'd heard were important, Naked Lunch, and The Fountainhead, Ulysses and Women in Love... It was as though I had dreamt the perfect lover, who vanished as I woke, leaving me pining and surly.
After my mom died she ate my father up completely. She would have hated it. Every minute of his life since then has been marked by her absence, every action has lacked dimension because she is not there to measure against. And when I was young I didn't understand, but now, I know, how absence can be present, like a damaged nerve, like a dark bird. If I had to live on without you I know I could not do it. But I hope, I have this vision of you walking unencumbered, with your shining hair in the sun. I have not seen this with my eyes, but only with my imagination, that makes pictures, that always wanted to paint you, shining; but I hope that this vision will be true, anyway.
Even her name seemed empty, as though it had detached itself from her and was floating untethered in his mind. How am I supposed to live without you? It was not a matter of the body; his body would carry on as usual. The problem was located in the word how: he would live, but without Elspeth the flavour, the manner, the method of living were lost to him. He would have to relearn solitude.
When the woman you live with is an artist, every day is a surprise. Clare has turned the second bedroom into a wonder cabinet, full of small sculptures and drawings pinned up on every inch of wall space. There are coils of wire and rolls of paper tucked into shelves and drawers. The sculptures remind me of kites, or model airplanes. I say this to Clare one evening, standing in the doorway of her studio in my suit and tie, home from work, about to begin making dinner, and she throws one at me; it flies surprisingly well, and soon we are standing at opposite ends of the hall, tossing tiny sculptures at each other, testing their aerodynamics. The next day I come home to find that Clare has created a flock of paper and wire birds, which are hanging from the ceiling in the living room. A week later our bedroom windows are full of abstract blue translucent shapes that the sun throws across the room onto the walls, making a sky for the bird shapes Clare has painted there. It's beautiful. The next evening I'm standing in the doorway of Clare's studio, watching her finish drawing a thicket of black lines around a little red bird. Suddenly I see Clare, in her small room, closed in by all her stuff, and I realize that she's trying to say something, and I know what I have to do.
. . .Tell me, Clare: why on earth would a lovely girl like you want to marry Henry?'Everything in the room seems to hold its breath. Henry stiffens but doesn't say anything. I lean forward and smile at Mr. DeTamble and say, with enthusiasm, as though he has asked me what flavor of ice cream I like best: 'Because he's really, good in bed.' In the kitchen there's a howl of laughter. Mr. DeTamble glances at Henry, who raises his eyebrows and grins, and finally even Mr. DeTamble smiles, and says ', my dear.