Books are some of my dearest friends.
When I was a little girl, they introduced themselves to me on the way home from the library. I ran my fingers along their plastic-lined covers, inhaled the scent of the pages, and fell in love with first sentences.
Thursday night, it happened again.
(On the porch at Ivy Hall)
Mother and I attended a book signing and teaching time at Ivy Hall in Atlanta by Carol Wallace who wrote Leaving Van Gogh, a historical fiction based on the last two months of Vincent Van Gogh’s life.
As Carol described Vincent Van Gogh’s years of mental illness, Mother and I glanced at each other.
Quite possibly, Vincent was bipolar, like my brother. Van Gogh was difficult to live with, painted obsessively, and never quite fit in.
Carol Wallace had my heart.
So did Vincent Van Gogh.
Before writing this novel, Carol considered weaving the story into a thriller. Then she went to the house where Van Gogh died and spent a few moments “alone with her heart.”
Sitting in his lonely bedroom, Carol knew she couldn’t write a thriller. Instead, she decided to lean into his difficult life and write from the compassionate point-of-view of Van Gogh’s personal physician, Dr. Gachet, who specialized in mental illness.
Mother called early Monday morning. She’d just finished reading Leaving Van Gogh.
“I didn’t think I had the intellect to appreciate it,” she said, “but I read every word. Holding it, the novel felt like satin, yet strong, but not too heavy. The pages turned like windblown leaves.”
“It’s a work of art,” I said. “And I’ve never liked historical fiction.”
“But Carol took me there,” I said. “Just think about her research. And what about the power of her nouns and verbs?”
“She describes Madame Chevalier’s walking as…’She stumped back into the house.’ Stumped! Isn’t that wonderful?” Mother said.
“Wonder if Carol wrote and rewrote? Or if she ever got frustrated?”
“She makes writing look like a tidy process,” Mother said. “The book is absolutely perfect. Just like Carol’s blue toenails. They matched her book cover, you know.”
“I didn’t notice, but what about her dialog! I underlined conversations all through the book. In pen,” I said, feeling a tad guilty.
“I wanted to underline, but it’s such a masterpiece I couldn’t mark in it. Not yet anyway.”
* * *
Leaving Van Gogh and even Van Gogh himself have become cherished friends of mine.
The magic happened the moment I began to care about him.
Do you make friends with books or characters in novels? I sure hope I’m not the only one.