Friday, November 13, 2009

Beauty Touched by Life

American Sculpture Gallery, Chrysler Museum, 2003

You’re just going to have to bear with me while I work through Look at the Birdie, the new collection of previously unpublished short fiction by Kurt Vonnegut. Every page reveals something that sticks with me.

In the story “Ed Luby’s Key Club,” Vonnegut describes Claire Elliot, who with her husband is being turned away from a fancy restaurant where they have splurged to dine on each of their fourteen wedding anniversaries when they learn that the restaurant has been turned into a private club. The mobster who owns the place has just made fun of Claire’s dress, saying, “Halloween or something? Tonight’s the night people put on funny costumes and go knock on private doors till the people inside go nuts?”

Then Vonnegut writes:

“The crack about funny costumes was obviously meant to hit Claire Elliot squarely—and it did. Claire was vulnerable—not because she looked funny, but because she had made the dress she wore, because her fur coat was borrowed. Claire looked marvelous, as a matter of fact, looked marvelous to anyone with an eye for beauty, beauty that had been touched by life.”

“Beauty that had been touched by life.” What an evocation.

Vonnegut continues:

“Claire was still slender, affectionate, tremendously optimistic. What time and work and worry had done to her was to make her look, permanently, the least bit tired.”

I know a lot of people I consider to be beautiful. Some have a beauty that has been unquestionably “touched by life.” But if that experience has changed their complexion or turned some of their sinuous facial curves into short lines, I think it only makes them more beautiful and worth knowing. Affection and optimism should never be undervalued.

1 comment:

  1. Well, if that's true, then thank God! Hahaaa. I'm feeling pretty darned "touched by life" these days.

    Something about your photo is very ethereal--just wonderful! Vonnegut sure has a way with words, doesn't he? Or, as Rob Reiner had one of his characters say, he has "such a head for knowing."

    I have a feeling I'm going to want to go get that book myself, hearing your description of it.