Little, Big, or The Fairies’ Parliament
John Crowley’s Little, Big. Having typed that, I hesitate. Go and read it. It is the best book written in English in the second half of the 20th century. It’s a very strong contender for best book written in English in the 20th century, period.
Melancholy, vivid, painfully lovely; crammed to bursting with off-hand arcana from Little Sammy Sneeze (Winsor McCay’s predecessor to Little Nemo’s Adventures in Slumberland) to Frances Yates’ The Rosicrucian Enlightenment, from Thornton Burgess’s animal tales to Victorian cottage orné pattern books. It gets better each time I read it, which is at least once a year for the last 20 years. The title of this blog, in fact, comes from the book.
One of my favorite memories of reading Little, Big was seven years ago this month. Joan and Little Sunshine were visiting in North Carolina; Baggy and Papa were visiting my sister, Legally Brunette, in Boise. I was alone in the house. (Sweet, rare words to appear in one sentence.) Except, of course, I wasn’t quite alone: there was a burgeoning Tuxedo Boy tucked away in my belly for the ride. I was reading the elegiac, fantastically sad and beautiful last pages of the novel, and crying, as I do each time I read them:
“Came from his burial, none knew where but she, Daily Alice came among them like daybreak, her tears like day-odorous dew. They swallowed tears and wonder before her presence, and made to leave, but no one would say later that she hadn’t smiled for them, and made them glad with her blessing, as they parted. They sighed, some yawned, they took hands; they took themselves by twos and threes away to where she sent them, to rocks, fields, streams and woods, to the four corners of the earth, their kingdom new-made.
“Then Alice walked alone there, by where the moist ground was marked with the dark circle of their dance, her skirts trailing damp in the sparkling grasses. She thought that if she could she might take away this summer day, this one day, for him; but he wouldn’t have liked her to do that, and she could not do it anyway. So instead she would make it, which she could do, this her anniversary day, a day of such perfect brilliance, a morning so new, an afternoon so endless, that the whole world would remember it ever after.”
And as I read, tears running down my face and landing on the page, Tuxedo Boy jumped in my belly like a salmon heading upstream. He flipped and rolled; he elbowed himself sideways across my stomach. We made contact for the first time in our lives over the sorrows of Daily Alice.
All I can say is, read it.