Nights in the gardens of Brooklyn—yes, that’s just the way it was. The boys came home from the war. They were probably men then but we tended to say “the boys.” If home was New York they would probably live in Brooklyn, at least until they were sure they didn’t want to go west to San Francisco or south to New Orleans, or to some countryside to become a farmer. As in Nights in the Gardens of Brooklyn, the girls were waiting. Of course they were probably women by then, but we referred to ourselves and our friends as girls until the women’s movement told us not to and we happily agreed. Before all of us young women and men lay the amazing GI bill, work, and life.
From Grace Paley’s introduction to the NYRB Classics edition of Harvey Swados’s Nights in the Gardens of Brooklyn. Good god, doesn’t that make you want to go get this book and read it? Right now?
Loved this collection! Reminds one of, well, Richard Yates. [Though spaghetti-monster forgive me if I use “Richard Yates” as shorthand I will write about the truest thing I know, and damn it all if it won’t hurt you and tear you to pieces.]
A favorite story is, “A Year of Grace.” At its surface, post-war restlessness and, well, love: Small-town boy marries the pharmacist’s daughter. But, it’s really about a woman who falls out of love with her husband, or, well, maybe realizes that she never loved him at all. Oh, heart.
He was not infuriating, he was simply comical, sitting there hunched over the wheel in his shorts that he insisted on wearing a little too long and waiting to be reassured that he was right and the vegetable lady was wrong. There was no need for her to lose control, no need to answer him in kind; in fact, if she really wanted to hurt him she had only to ignore his implied request for support, or to turn it down. But she had no desire to hurt him, she discovered, nor even the wish to assert herself or to explain herself to him. She was simply not interested any longer in Burton, in his work, or in what he thought of her. This in itself was such a shocking realization that it made her feel weak and a little dizzy, and, in the moments that it took for them to reach the wind-scudded seacoast, happier and more lightheaded than she had ever been. So this, she thought, is why I’ve been working so hard all those long weeks on my French. And it struck her that just as a woman’s body will prepare her almost magically to experience the great physical and emotional events of her life, so her mind, deviously, almost furtively, will adjust and retrain itself—if it has any vitality at all and is more than an inert lump of matter—to prepare for new contingencies and unexpected vicissitudes.
Again: Oh, heart.