Feb’s Too Busy for Books: Hardwick

Feb’s Too Busy for Books: Hardwick

“You receive biographies interesting mainly for their coherence.”

This month the Too Busy for Books Book Club met to discuss Sleepless Nights by Elizabeth Hardwick.

Sleepless Nights was Hardwick’s slim “autobiographical novel.” She composed these jumbly remembrances in a brisk tone that wastes few words. The sentences feel pruned, often to strings of adjectival phrases, then set down as paragraphs on the page. While many scenes described in Sleepless Nights seem to resemble Hardwick’s own life, they are usually placed out of order, of unequal scale and length. This presentation disguises and undermines her remembrances, lending them the fog of a sleepless night.

Hardwick was a most important literary and political figure of her time. She does not address that. “Sometimes I resent the glossary, the concordance of truth, many have about my real life, have like an extra pair of spectacles.” Sidestepping such topics, Hardwick instead leaves huge holes in “the plot,” admitting at one point that most of the action is off-stage. Neighborhoods and distant acquaintances are described at length but talk of a husband is vague, coded. Europe suddenly appears, a trip to Holland rearing up out without explanation. The author’s loneliness is hinted at more than once. The topics drift and return much as an insomniac tosses and turns.

Read without the “extra pair of spectacles,” Sleepless Nights remains a secretive prose poem, full of enigmatic choices.

Next month we read “Jack and the Mad Dog” from Mr Tall by Tony Earley.

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