Aja Gabel Recommends...

“For years and years, there’s been only one book I turn to when I feel the well dry up: The Lover by Marguerite Duras, and specifically the opening paragraph. Of course, if I read the first page, I’ll read the next ten, twenty, and by that point I might as well read the whole thing. But only the first few sentences are necessary to spark. ‘One day, I was already old, in the entrance of a public place a man came up to me,’ it begins. The vertiginous flexing of time in that sentence, that strange use of ‘already,’ the danger or warmth (possibility, really) set up in the action. How much of a person’s perspective on life could you contain in a single sentence? Two? Five? The man says to her, ‘Rather than your face as a young woman, I prefer your face as it is now. Ravaged.’ It’s Grace Paley smashed up with Toni Morrison, breathless and brutal. It loosens something in me. The book is so slim I sometimes carry it with me in my back pocket, the devastation of that last word throbbing there as I wander up and down grocery store aisles. I have three copies. I keep giving them away. I search for the novel in bookstores. I hope by memorizing it I will have absorbed it, and by absorbing it I will have in my lungs and blood the residue of that audacity to use when I sit down to write. Write fearless sentences, that first paragraph teaches me. Tell the savage truth, it insists.”
—Aja Gabel, author of The Ensemble (Riverhead Books, 2018)