A professional book reviewer is often asked if he has ever tried to write fiction, a question to which Book World's resident critic, Jonathan Yardley, customarily responds with embarrassed bleats. Now, however, he has written -- or assembled, with some help from his friends on the Book World staff -- a fiction of sorts, and it is up to Book World's readers to determine its sources. The story complete, and no line has been altered in any way. The task here -- a Bonus Book Bag contest for the holidays -- is to identify the novels from which the lines are drawn, and you have almost a month to do it. Six winners will be chosen.
AN AUTHOR ought to consider himself, not as a gentleman who gives a private or eleemosynary treat, but rather as one who keeps a public ordinary, at which all persons are welcome for their money. A story has no beginning or end: arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead. I had the story, bit by bit, from various people, and, as generally happens in such cases, each time it was a different story.
I am an American, Chicago-born -- Chicago, that somber city -- and go at things as I have taught myself, free-style, and will make the record in my own way: first to knock, first admitted; sometimes an innocent knock, sometimes a not so innocent. Call me Ishmael. I was leaning against the bar in a speakeasy on fifty-second Street, waiting for Nora to finish her Christmas shopping, when a girl got up from the table where she had been sitting with three other people and came over to me. "Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents," grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.
It was love at first sight. Love conquers all -- omnia vincit amor, said the gold scroll in a curve beneath the dial of the old French gilt clock. When I was seventeen and in full obedience to my heart's most urgent commands, I stepped far from the pathway of normal life and in a moment's time ruined everything I loved -- I loved so deeply, and when the love was interrupted, when the incorporeal body of love shrank back in terror and my own body was locked away, it was hard for others to believe that a life so new could suffer so irrevocably. This is the saddest story I have ever heard.
In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains. The towers of Zenith aspired above the morning mist; austere towers of steel and cement and limestone, sturdy as cliffs and delicate as silver rods. The day broke gray and dull. Nobody could sleep. The cold passed reluctantly from the earth and the retiring fogs revealed an army stretched out on the hills, resting.
When I reached C Company lines, which were at the top of the hill, I paused and looked back at the camp, just coming into full view below me through the grey mist of early morning. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way -- in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only. One never knows when the blow may fall. They threw me off the hay truck about noon.
They're out there. A throng of bearded men, in sad- colored garments and gray, steeple-crowned hats, intermixed with women, some wearing hoods, and others bareheaded, was assembled in front of a wooden edifice, the door of which was heavily timbered with oak, and studded with iron spikes. Through the fence, between the curling flower spaces, I could see them hitting. By nightfall the headlines would be reporting devastation.
THERE WAS no possibility of taking a walk that day. It was a feature peculiar to the colonial wars of North America, that the toils and dangers of the wilderness were to be encountered before the adverse hosts could meet. I confess that when I first made acquaintance with Charles Strickland I never for a moment discerned that there was in him anything out of the ordinary. He awoke, opened his eyes. To have a reason to get up in the morning, it is necessary to possess a guiding principle. Waking up begins with saying am and now. "Now, what I want is, Facts." There is, as every schoolboy knows in this scientific age, a very close chemical relation between coal and diamonds.
When he finished packing, he walked out onto the third-floor porch of the barracks brushing the dust from his hands, a very neat and deceptively slim young man in the summer khakis that were still early morning fresh. Often he thought: My life did not begin until I knew her. She was so deeply embedded in my consciousness that for the first year of school I seem to have believed that each of my teachers was my mother in disguise. All happy families resemble one another, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife. The possessive instinct never stands still. This is the story of what a Woman's patience can endure, and what a Man's resolution can achieve. Whether or no, she, whom you are to forgive, if you can, did or did not belong to the Upper Ten Thousand of this our English world, I am not prepared to say with any strength of affirmation. It is a cause of very great regret to me that this task has taken so much longer a time than I had expected for its completion. In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since.
The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there. Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo. . . .
Number your answers 1 to 44, and list author and title beside the appropriate number. Mail entries to: Bonus Book Bag, Book World, The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW., Washington, D.C. 20071. Up to three people may collaborate on one entry. Six winning entries will be chosen -- the first six correct entries drawn at random. Employes of The Washington Post Company and their families are not eligible to enter. Entries must be received by December 31 at 5 p.m. The winners' names and cities of residence will be announced in the January 12 Book World. A Washington Post Book World book bag -- plus an inscribed copy of Jonathan Yardley's biography of Ring Lardner -- will be sent to each winner.
The following authors contributed one sentence or more to the story:
Louisa May Alcott, Jane Austen, Saul Bellow, Paul Bowles, Charlotte Bronte, James M. Cain, Wilkie Collins, Evan S. Connell, Joseph Conrad, James Fenimore Cooper, James Gould Cozzens, Stephen Crane, Charles Dickens, William Faulkner, Ford Madox Ford, Henry Fielding, F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Galsworthy, Graham Greene, Judith Guest, Dashiell Hammett, L.P. Hartley, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Shirley Hazzard, Joseph Heller, Ernest Hemingway, W.H. Hudson, Christopher Isherwood, James Jones, James Joyce, Ken Kesey, Sinclair Lewis, Norman Mailer, W. Somerset Maugham, Herman Melville, Philip Roth, Scott Spencer, Leo Tolstoy, Anthony Trollope, Evelyn Waugh and Edith Wharton.