June 28th, 2004

Candid Camera


At La Piazzetta not a half hour ago two old geezers sat down at the table immediately next to mine. I took out my little Nikon CP5400, and used its flip out LCD screen to frame the scene. Since I was staring down intently at the camera in my lap and not at them, they had no idea I was taking their picture, even though I wasn't more than three feet away.

P.S. Yes, I know. By any objective measure I'm an old geezer too. But by God I don't feel like one.

Ophelia Exegesis


Herewith the complete text of the letter I sent today to my friend Jeremy Trafford, author of the novel "Ophelia."

Dear Jeremy,

Allow me to leap right into my multitude of positive reactions to your novel, in no particular order of importance. I’ll begin with the extended opening metaphor on page 1. I found it compelling, all encompassing:

“Their horses’ hooves pounded the wet sand, and shivers of water shot into the air. Perhaps he too had ridden this way, for she could see another set of footprints. She tried to follow them as they skirted the ribbed crescents imprinted by the waves, but sometimes they became so faint she could hardly make them out, and sometimes they disappeared entirely.”

The disappearing footprints are, in my view, a prefiguring of the breaks in the linear chain of Ophelia’s sanity. They’re also an allusion to the fleeting shadows on the wall of Plato’s cave, a recurring theme of your novel. It’s evocative, too, of Augustine’s description of the devoted Christian soul’s search for “divine traces” in the woods of the material world. This is such an important and appropriate device that I was a bit taken aback by what immediately follows:

“Were these like the impressions of his love, she wondered, puzzling and elusive as they were at times, vanishing with a gleam into extinction? Were these like the traces of his erratic promises, soon to be erased by the obliterating sea?”

I initially thought had I been your editor, I would have tried to persuade you to delete that passage because the metaphor is so powerful and vivid that it simply requires no explanation. But then I realized that here was your very first revelation of the mind and character of Ophelia, as you imagined it. She, fully capable of discerning meaning and metaphor on the wet sand of a beach, is not as passive and perhaps unimaginative as I might have thought. Of course it must remain. You know exactly what you’re doing!

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