We don't think often enough about Connecticut.
There may be some excuse for people in Washington, to most of whom Connecticut is unexplored territory on the wrong side of New York City, but there is little for those hordes in Connecticut's southern section who use it as a bedroom, a refuge from their daily, soul-destroying encounter with the metropolis. And there is not much excuse for those motorists who treat it (while the petroleum lasts) as a place to drive through en route to something more interesting -- a cape, a vineyard, an alternate metropolis.
There is rumored to be a pretty fair university somewhere in the state, and a lot of writers living in the woods. But when they write about Connecticut, the Connecticut writers seem to dwell on the terrible things married couples do to one another in the suburbs.
Not so Anatole Broyard, a Connecticut patriot to the core, although he is a native of New Orleans and retains some of that city's special elegance in his writing style. Without following a rigid plan (for his book is, after all, a collection of occasional essays culled from a daily newspaper), Broyard slowly, cumulatively creates in these pages a hymn to Connecticut-ness, a paean to the leisurely pace and open spaces of a region just beyond suburbia but on the civilized outer fringes of farm country.
As Broyard tells it, the toiling classes are different in Connecticut -- perhaps they have all gone to Yale. His plumber describes the behavior of water as "oxymoronic" (which is a technical term of rhetoric, not of plumbing) and loses himself in lyricism so thoroughly that he never gets around to fixing the shower: "You and I . . . emerged from water. Not only from the amniotic waters of the womb, but out of the sea, the womb of evolution. Water is the great mother. What is the body, after all, but water? Why is immersion so soothing, even to psychopaths? Think of hard and soft water, its moods, its moeurs. Water the solvent, the cleanser, the cooling agent, the dispersive medium, the catalyst."
It's almost enough to make you want to move to this state, where people talk like occasional essays, even if you would have to learn to fix your own shower.
Connecticut life has its problems, to be sure; burdened with "a large mortgage, a leaky roof, and two moribund cars," Broyard has abandoned the giddy dream of building a tennis court of his own, and he complains sometimes that the country lacks some of the urban stimuli: "While city life is a supermarket of ready-made symbols, events and occasions, country people have to create their own. We are engaged in an eternal Easter egg hunt for something to respond to, something that will enable us to believe we have not rusticated our sensibilities."
It is, despite its placid surface, a place of volatile passions. Surrounded by the debris of the marriages other Connecticut writers write about, Broyard and spouse worry about becoming "the only married persons in the neighborhood." But when a friend comes to spend the weekend, bringing his "fatiguingly attractive" current lover, the Broyards digest the experience and reach a comfortable conclusion: "My friend and his girl are gamblers and his wife and I are investors. . . They are a studio and we are a house."
In Connecticut, one debates politely with a school's principal about the subtle distinctions between a boot (which is forbidden) and a shoe (which is not). It is a place where sunsets are beautiful ("In New York City, the sunset has a dirty face"), but people pay them little attention. It has an easy democracy, which allows the owner of a run-down Ford to borrow a neighbor's Mercedes. People in Connecticut still have attics, where one can spend an afternoon "throwing out old useless things to make room for new useless things."
In Broyard's compact essays, Connecticut becomes a microcosm. It has a distinctive character of its own, thrown into sharp perspective by the looming shadow of the giant city next door, but he shows it also as a stage for universal human dramas.
In the end, lulled by his fluid prose or stirred to thought by his random remarks, one may conclude that Broyard is writing not about Connecticut but something larger. The difference is minimal. In either case, he is inviting people to stop for a moment and look more closely at what they drive through on their way to somewhere else.