Volume 93, Issue 29

Thursday, October 21, 1999


Take a bite out of life

Stagmummer prepare for the end

Evening tale never falls

Evening tale never falls

Susan Minot
Vintage Books

"A new lens passed over everything she saw, the shadows moved on the wall like skeletons handing things to each other. Her body was flung back over a thousand beds in a thousand other rooms. She was undergoing a revolution, she felt split open. In her mattress there beat the feather of a wild bird."

Lead character Ann Lord watches her perspective on the world change in Susan Minot's third novel Evening, which poignantly chronicles her memories as she lies dying in her bedroom. The end result allows the reader a glimpse into her life and secret memories, which makes for an enrapturing effort.

Her family, friends, beautiful home and the many objects carefully collected to decorate it, have all become less important. They even begin to dissolve from her consciousness. She is dying and these facets of her life don't seem to matter much anymore – "They all became equal to each other, equal motes of dust drifting by," Minot writes.

Ann does not dwell on the accomplishments of her life, her youth as a singer in New York, her many lifelong friends, or the lives of her five children. Her three husbands are only briefly remembered, each appearing interchangeable with the next.

Instead, she is overwhelmed by memories of a weekend 40 years ago, when she travelled to Maine to be a bridesmaid at her friend's wedding. It was there that she met Harris Arden, a mysterious and handsome man. Ann thought it was destiny and she knew her life would never be the same.

As Ann relives the events of the weekend, the reader accompanies her through every moment. Each exquisite detail Minot provides, creates a vivid portrait of all that Ann experiences – sparkling stars in the night sky, the smell of balsam, water lapping against the shore, shimmering silk gowns at the lavish wedding, Harris' hand caressing the back of her neck.

Minot creates a sensual, almost palpable, impression, as the reader sees and feels everything Ann does. These descriptions are particularly emotive when surrounding Ann's romantic interaction with Harris.

The narrative gains momentum as Ann's world begins to crash down around her. The intensity of her memories of the weekend amplifies, along with the pain from her illness. Both Ann and the reader are pushed forward to an inevitable and inescapable conclusion – death. As the end nears, the line between present and past, memory and reality blur until they are indistinguishable.

In Evening, Minot weaves a spellbinding story with her lyrical language, which makes for many passages crafted in a delicate beauty. Much like the mesmerizing images found in impressionistic paintings, Minot's passages create perfect pictures, each beautiful on their own.

Minot adeptly negotiates shifts in the narrative between Ann in the present, Ann in the past as well as those around her. The frequency of the shifts between the present and past increase to an almost dizzying pitch, as the novel reaches its culmination, echoing the confusion of Ann's mind as she plunges into semi-consciousness.

If you want a book to leave you feeling warm and fuzzy, keep looking. In Evening, Minot presents a touching story of a love found and then denied. All Ann is left with is the memory of a weekend and one perfect evening over 40 years old.

It is this memory which overshadows her entire life and in the end, consumes her.

–Johanna Weidner

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Copyright The Gazette 1999