Monday Motivation: In search of a simple truth
“The land has left its luring autumn self behind and put on a new, aloof beauty. The greens and golds have thinned to watercolour; the sky is one scoured sweep of pale blue, and the mountains are so clear it seems like Cal can see each distant clump of browning heather, sharp and distinct. The verges are still soft from the rain, with puddles in the ruts. Cal’s breath smokes and spreads. He takes the walk slowly, sparing his knee. He knows he’s walking into a hard day, in a hard place.”
I’m tempted to say, read it again – and then bow out gracefully for today, but let me say a little about the passage, the writer, and the inspiration she offers.
It’s from the final chapter of The Searchers, by Tana French, all of whose earlier books I’ve devoured. This one is about a retired homicide detective from Chicago who settles in a tiny village in the west of Ireland and finds himself enlisted to investigate the fate of a missing boy. It’s without question one of French’s very best. That paragraph is typical of her spare, lyrical style. The details she notes are clear and distinct and immediately conjure up the landscape.
And threaded through the description is the sense we have of something looming ahead. Picture this paragraph as a canvas on which French deftly applies her pellucid images – reserving till last the testing truth that her character is about to encounter. That final line with its repetition tells you all you need to know about Cal.
Why is this book inspiring? Well, firstly because there’s nothing fancy about it. The story is laid out like one of the four-square Irish cottages that dot the narrative: two down and two up. The sentences are clear and unadorned.
But there’s something else here. The story concerns a man who has tried all his life to do good, but, for reasons that escape him, has failed.
“All Cal ever wanted to be was a steady man who took care of his family and did right by the people around him,” French writes. “For more than twenty years, he went about his business believing he was that man. Only somewhere along the way, he fucked up. He lost hold of his code, and the worst part is that he can’t understand what he did. Everything he’s been since that moment has been worth nothing, and he doesn’t even know what the moment was.”
For me this is inspiring because it seems to be the product of a simple search for the kind of truth that Hemingway was talking about when he said: ““All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.”
And we’re all capable of seeking out that truth, and laying it down on paper, or the screen, in language that is both clear and, therefore, beautiful.