Because this was
a visit and a return, I might have had the nerve, right at the beginning, to
call it Sakonnet Point Revisited and take my lumps on the Victorianism and
sentimentality counts, though half a page of murder and sex at the end would
bail that out. But one always knew from Lit I on that if you are to cultivate a
universal irony, as Edmund Wilson told Scott Fitzgerald to do, you must never
visit anything in your works, much less revisit—ever.
But when you go
back to a place where you spent many hours of childhood, you find that some of
it has become important, if not actually numinous, and that Lit I might just
have to eat hot lead for the moment, because there is no way of suppressing
that importance. Also, there is the fact of its being no secret anyway. A
Midwestern childhood is going to show, for instance, even after you have
retired from the ad agency and are a simple crab fisherman by the sea, grave
with Winslow Homer marineland wisdom. Sooner or later someone looks into your
eyes and sees a flash of corn and automobiles, possibly even the chemical plant
at Wyandotte, Michigan. You can't hide it.
Still, there was
one thing certainly to be avoided: to wit, when you go back to the summer place
everything seems so small.
"But when I got there, everything did seem small...."
Don't say it! The
smallness of that which is revisited is one of the touchstones of an egregious
underground literature in which the heart is constantly wrung by the artifacts
Students of Lit
I: concentrate on all that dreck on the beach that didn't used to be there,
won't you? Get the usual garbage, but lay in there for the real
nonbiodegradables, too. This is 1971; be sure the aluminum cans and the
polystyrene crud shows up on the page. The great thing, ironists, is the stuff
is really there! So, questions of falsification and literary decorum are both
I had neared
Sakonnet Point thinking, "This place is loaded with pitfalls," and I
had visualized a perfect beach of distant memory now glittering with mercury,
oiled ducks, aluminum and maybe one defunct but glowing nuclear submarine. And
I met my expectations at my first meal in the area: The Down East Clam Special.
The cook's budget had evidently been diverted into the tourist effluvium
inspired by the American Revolution that I saw in the lobby. The clams that
were in my chowder and fritters and fried clams were mere shadows of their
former selves, in some instances calling into question whether they had ever
been clams at all.
On my plate was
Lit I, in parable form, come to haunt me. I knew at that moment that I had my
imaginative sights. As a result, I actually returned to Sakonnet Point half
thinking to see the whalers of the Pequod striding up from their dories to
welcome me. And, truly, when I saw the old houses on the rocky peninsula, they
fitted the spangled Atlantic around them at exactly the equipoise that seems
one of the harmonics of childhood.
I had my bass rod
in the car and drove straight to Warren's Point. There was a nice shore-break
surf and plenty of boiling white water that I could reach with a plug.
Nevertheless, I didn't rush it. I needed a little breakthrough to make the
pursuit plausible. When you are fishing on foot, you have none of the
reassurances that the big accouterments of the sport offer. No one riding a
fighting chair on a hundred-thousand-dollar John Rybovich sport-fisherman
thinks about not getting one in quite the same terms as the man on foot.
Before I began, I
could see on the horizon the spectator boats from the last day of the America's
Cup heading home. The Goodyear blimp seemed as stately in the pale sky as the
striped bass I had visualized as my evening's reward.