While it looked like i hadn’t been reading at all, I did manage a page or two at a time on this and the fact that I’ve been taken with a hypertext project I’m working on is not totally to blame.
The plot is soooooo slooooow.
Normally I don’t mind this, being a bit changed from the need for speed and constant action from a novel and into more of a mood, a setting, a grasp of something important going on that I don’t want to miss. But Agee takes 16 pages to go from a phone call to Mary telling her of a terrible accident involving her husband, Jay, and we still don’t know if he’s dead or alive.
What Agee has focused on beautifully is the tension that fairly crackles in the waiting.
"I think what’s very much more likely is, that he was already dead when the man just phoned, and that he couldn’t bear to tell me, and I don’t blame him, I’m grateful that he didn’t. It ought to come from a man in the family, somebody–close to Jay, and to me. I think Andrew was pretty sure–what was up–when he went out, and had every intention not to leave us in mid-air this way. He meant to phone. But all the time he was hoping against hope, as we all were, and when–when he saw Jay–it was more than he could do to phone, and he knew it was more than I could stand to hear over a phone, even from him, and so he didn’t, and I’m infinitely grateful he didn’t. He must have known that as time kept–wearing on in this terrible way, we’d draw our own conclusions and have time to–time. And that’s best. He wanted to be with me when I heard. And that’s right. So do it. Straight from his lips. I thin what he did–what he’s doing , it’s…" (p. 107)
What Agee has done is relate what is a very common phenomenon when someone is injured in an accident and the family at home waiting for news. The minutes drag into hours and speculation is tentatively offered as conversation runs dry. Imagination argues with hope, and symbols are made out of time gone by. It’s a glimpse into a painful and tense scenario and follows the thoughts of the characters as they conflict hope with despair, belief with faltering faith in God, finally coming to a place of readiness.
Still, it’s going on a bit too long, even for me.