In this stunning and fully independent conclusion to A Great Circle, Reynolds Price tells the complex, moving story of a man's return home to die of AIDS and of the unexpected effect that his arrival -- and his death -- has on his family.
Wade Mayfield's parents are separated, but for the remaining months of his life they and their friends come together to care for Wade with the love they can muster. They are unprepared, however, for the astonishing mystery Wade has prepared to reveal once he is gone -- a mystery that initiates the possible reunion of his parents and promises to continue the proud traditions of a complex, multiracial family.
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November 01, 1996
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Excerpt from The Promise of Rest by Reynolds Price
Chapter 1 BOUND HOMEAPRIL 1993For thirty-odd years, this white narrow room at the top of a granite building in the midst of Duke University had been one place where Hutchins Mayfield never felt less than alive and useful by the day and the hour. For that long stretch he'd met his seminar students here, and this year's group was gathered for its first meeting of the week. There were fourteen of them, eight men and six women, aged nineteen to twenty-two; and by a pleasant accident, each had a winning face, though two of the men were still in the grip of post-adolescent narcolepsy frequent short fade-outs.This noon they all sat, with Hutch at the head, round a long oak table by a wall of windows that opened on dogwoods in early spring riot; and though today was the class's last hour for dealing with Milton's early poems before moving on to Marvell and Herbert, even more students were dazed by the rising heat and the fragrance borne through every window.In the hope of rousing them for a last twenty minutes, Hutch raised his voice slightly and asked who knew the Latin root of the wordsincere.A dozen dead sets of eyes shied from him.He gave his routine fixed class grin, which meantI can wait you out till Doom.Then the most skittish student of all raised her pale hand and fixed her eyes on Hutch immense and perfectly focused eyes, bluer than glacial lakes. When Hutch had urged her, months ago, to talk more in class, she'd told him that every time she spoke she was racked by dreams the following night. And still, volunteering, she was ready to bolt at the first sign of pressure from Hutch or the class.Hutch flinched in the grip of her eyes but called her name. "Karen?"She said"Without wax,from the Latinsine cere.""Right and what does that mean?"She hadn't quite mustered the breath and daring for a full explanation; but with one long breath, she managed to say "When a careless Roman sculptor botched his marble, he'd fill the blunder with smooth white wax. A sincere statue was one without wax." Once that was out, Karen blushed a dangerous color of red; and her right hand came up to cover her mouth.Hutch recalled that Karen was the only member of the class who'd studied Latin, three years in high schoolman all but vanished yet nearvital skill. He thanked her, then said "The thoroughly dumb but central question that's troubled critics of Milton's 'Lycidas' was stated most famously by pompous Dr. Samuel Johnson late in the eighteenth century. He of course objected mightily, if pointlessly, to the shepherd trappings of a pastoral poem -- what would he say about cowboy films today? He even claimed and I think I can very nearly quote him that 'He who thus grieves will excite no sympathy; he who thus praises will confer no honor.' I think he's as wrong as a critic can be, which is saying a lot; and I think I can prove it."Hutch paused to see if their faces could bear what he had in mind; and since the hour was nearly over, most of their eyes had opened wider and were at least faking consciousness again. So he said "I'd like to read the whole poem aloud again, not because I love my own voice but because any poem is as dead on the page as the notes of a song unless you hear its music performed by a reasonably practiced competent musician. It'll take ten minutes; please wake up and listen." He grinned again.The narcolepts shook themselves like drowned Labradors. They were oddly both redheads.One woman with record-long bangs clamped her eyes shut.Hutch said "Remember now the most skillful technician in English poetry who lived after Milton was Tennyson, two centuries later. Tennyson was no pushover when it came to praising other poets very few poets are but he claimed more than once that 'Lycidas' is the highest touchstone of poetic appreciation in the English language: a touchstone being a device for gauging the gold content of metal