What The Stones Remember: A Life Rediscovered is Patrick Lane’s memoir masterpiece, which didn’t have much of a run when it was first published in 2004, and now is available in America only through Shambhala Press, in hard copy or as an ebook. This literary gem has added more quality than quantity to the literary landscape.
Lane is a poet, and the prose of this 259-page book is sometimes too sweet to sip, too poetic to sniff. The pleasure of the language matures in the mind like wine matures in the mouth, leaving a structure and an aftertaste which haunts the tastebuds. In a paragraph on page 4 he announces that he is withdrawing from 45 years of drinking, and after two months of treatment is but barely detoxed:
“Standing here among the sword ferns my senses seem to be thin glass, so acute at their edges I am afraid I will cut myself simply by touching the silicon edge of a bamboo leaf. The flicker’s blade of beak as it slices into the apple makes me wince. My hands are pale animals. … My flesh at times is in agony, and I feel as if I have come out from some shadowed place into the light for the first time. I feel, for the first time in years, alive.”
Sit back for a moment and savor those words, those images.
I confess to never having heard of Patrick Lane before my daughter gave me this book seven years ago, though he has been well known in Canada, and has won several prestigious awards there. He had a popular Canadian television gardening program, Recreating Eden. His book is also about gardening, in the same way that the loaves and fishes are about breakfast.
His Wikipedia biography contains the elusive factoids common to the lives of geniuses; barely finished high school, several marriages, five children, addiction and recovery, teaches at a university. Take any one of those facts, and follow it down to the root and you come up with What The Stones Remember.
His book has a different name in Canada, There Is A Season. That’s a mysterious marketing/publishing move, but so be it. There Is A Season is available on amazon (though not as an ebook), with a different cover. I am glad to report that there are only three copies left in stock. That means people are still reading it, probably Canadians.
The book was nominated for the Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Award for non-fiction in 2004. This is a curious nomination for a person who had written 26 previous books and won numerous prizes before 2004. Will I still be a “new writer” after 26 books? I guess the thing is that the American publishing world is a beast unto itself. Barnes & Noble’s website makes it hard to find out which “new writer” did win the prize that year, but how could anyone be better?
The blurb on the book’s front cover is by Alice Munro, “To read this book is to enter a state of enchantment.” Read it and become enchanted. Also inspired, challenged, and humbled.