As I’ve done before when reading a book by Peter Orner, I found myself murmuring, “That’s beautiful!” or “That’s stunning!” Not so much about the topics in this latest book of essays (though they are well worth mentioning) but because his way with words is a tribute to the English language.
It’s not flowery, not the type of writing style where you need to keep a dictionary nearby. It’s just the way he uses words in a perfect way. No wonder he’s been a professor or writing, “preaching the gospel of fiction”, as he describes it.
His essays in Still No Word from You: Notes in the Margin speak of quite ordinary things, for the most part: life, love, loss, piano lessons, wills, disinheritance, and his many family members. He also talks about other authors or poets as a jumping off point for a topic he muses about. The title of the book references his grandfather, in the military during World War II, who wrote home every day to his wife, without receiving a like number of responses from her in return. “Still no word from you…” he finally told her, asking for at least some communication from her.
But Orner makes up for the communication about his grandparents, as well as his mother and father, by relaying simple stories that made an impact on him. Speaking of his grandfather, he recollects that he’s only been gone 24 years – “a youthful dead” in the grand scheme of things, he says.
Even the author’s description of rain as “pecking the windows like somebody’s down in the alley throwing pebbles” against the window is simplistic, but beautiful and accurate. He turns a scene from “Death of a Salesman” with Willy Loman into a musing on losers, death, and the supposed importance of being liked.
There’s something painful and relatable about his essay on the last days of his dog. Most animal lovers have been in that situation, but few could capture the essence of the feeling of it.
With all of his references to other writers, it’s the quite often humble Orner here who deserves the same appreciation. This book of essays is a sometimes humorous, often touching master class in the art of writing, and not one to be missed.