I want to thank Beth of I didn’t have my glasses on for calling my attention to Spill Simmer Falter Wither by Sara Baume.
Opening lines of a novel or a short story are always an invitation. Some opening lines are so oft-putting, you just know that a visit with the folks in this house is not going to be worth the effort. Or the time.
A good opening is a Welcome mat that invites you into the story. It says, “C’mon in and sit a spell. You’re sure to have a mighty fine time.” Sara Baume opens her novel, Spill Simmer Falter Wither with these words:
He is running, running, running.
And it’s like no kind of running he’s ever run before. He’s the surge that burst the dam and he’s pouring down the hillslope, channelling through the grass to the width of his widest part. He’s tripping into hoofrucks. He’s slapping groundsel stems down down. Dandelions and chickweed, nettles and dock.
Those are the words of Ray, a 57 year old man in this first person account. He lives alone in a coastal Irish village in the house he inherited from his father. He has only the memories of his father to keep him company. He’s “too old for starting over, too young for giving up” (p. 12). He rescues a one-eyed dog he names One Eye. They are both outcasts, the man and the dog.
When Ray goes to the grocer to buy some food, he reflects:
The grocer’s girl, April, talks loudly on the telephone as she scans my goods, forgetting to proffer a paper bag. I’ve always imagined April was born in April and has three sisters called May, June and July, perhaps an only brother called December because if the summer is a woman, so the winter much be a man. (p.23)
As Ray and One Eye bond, the man takes on a dog’s eye view of his world.
Now the food bowl is the epicenter of your existence, to which the house is attached, and everything beyond radiates from, like sun beams. (p.36)
On a walk with One Eye, Ray comments:
I wish I’d been born with your capacity for wonder. (p.41)
Now you are my third leg, an unlimping leg, and I am the eye you lost. (p.43)
And there is a joy Ray experiences when he lets One Eye run free in a field outside the village.
You wag your tail. This is the first time I’ve seen you wag your tail. “GOOD BOY!” I yell. (p.48)
One day, while Ray and One Eye go walking, the dog attacks a collie. Ray finally gets One Eye to let go. The collie runs away with its female owner it chasing him. Ray takes One Eye home and hides in the house, afraid of what may happen next. After a while, Ray and One Eye continue their walks. They go out at dawn and find places where they can walk and not have a repeat of the incident with the collie.
Then it happens again. One Eye goes after a shih tzu. Ray retreats back into his house. He is afraid of losing One Eye. The local warden comes for the dog. “A complaint’s been made.” How Ray responds to that complaint drives the rest of the novel.
The friendship that grows between the animal and the human is chronicled in detail in Sara Baume’s beautiful novel. For the first time in each’s life, they have a friend. As I read, I was completely pulled in, not only by the language, but also by the character study of Ray, revealing his rich inner life.
Not only does he open up his perceptions of the world to One Eye. There is also a running dialogue about his dead father. So strong is his memories that it can be said Ray’s father is the third of three major characters.
Spill Simmer Falter Wither is a book that you will remember long after you put it down. One thing is for sure. Sara Baume has created one of the most moving novels I have ever read. And, in case you’re wondering, Spill Simmer Falter Wither is a mondegreen for Spring Summer Fall Winter.
Sara’s second novel, A Line Made By Walking, is out. From the reviews on Amazon, looks like she has a winner with it as well. It will be interesting to follow this writer five, ten, twenty years down the road to see where she leads her readers.