On The Reading Table-Alan Cumyn

Usually, I’m more direct but I have to go the long way around the barn on this one.

I am not sure what year it was. Sometime in the mid to late ‘80’s. It was a cold rainy weekend in Austin, Texas. A rarity. Something to relished and celebrated. My friend Al was visiting. He suggested we have a movie marathon. I was game. How about the Star Wars trilogy? I made a face. “You don’t like it?” he asked, incredulous.

“Umm, I’ve never seen it.”

His mouth dropped open. “You have to see it. This is great story: Romance, heroism, good and evil. We have to go rent it now.”

There are times when I resist such emphatic pushiness. Just on principle. This wasn’t one of them. “Okay,” I said.

Of course I’d heard of the Star Wars trilogy and attendant hoopla. I lived in America. But I thought it was a boy movie. Something that a Billy Wilder kind of gal (that’s me) wouldn’t like. The only girl I knew who had gone was Isabella and she’d only gone because her beloved Rod went. He was one of the lunatics who spent the night in line for each premiere. Rod’s passionate like that.

So Al and I went to the video store and rented all three Star Wars videos: Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi. As we were checking out, the girl behind the counter said, “A Stars Wars marathon. Cool.”

“Yeah,” I said. “I’ve never seen ‘em.”

Silence. Big Space in the Universe Pause. Yet another mouth within one hour’s time dropped open.

“You have NEVER seen ANY of these movies?” I shook my head slowly, not sure if I’d broken some sacrosanct movie law and a crater in the video store floor was going to open up and swallow me up whole.

“You. Are. The. Luckiest. Person. In. The. Whole. Wide. World.” Then she turned to her co-worker, “She’s never seen any of Star Wars and she’s going to watch the whole thing this weekend.” Both of them stared at me with awe. With fascination. With near reverence. The co-corker said, “Oh man, I so wish I could be her.”

I probably made this up but, as Al and I left the store, I swear the girl said, ‘I still remember my first time…”

Alan Cumyn would probably be amused by this story. To use it as an analogy to talk about his Owen Skye trilogy, well, he might accuse me of hyperbole. But I think not. Besides I’m in charge of this neck of the web universe and here’s what I think: Reading Alan Cumyn’s trilogy of books: The Secret Life of Owen Skye, After Sylvia and Dear Sylvia reminded of that Star Wars weekend: I was immersed in great story; I didn’t have to wait months or years for the next episode; and I completely left my universe to be with this character.

In The Secret Life of Owen Skye, we meet Owen, a very funny and bright boy with two brothers who either lead or follow him into trouble. I had that rich experience of hanging out with this band of brothers and wandering down all their pathways including the ones where they scare themselves silly. Cumyn gets Owen just right. Especially when Owen finds his uncle who is too scared to get married and coaxes him back to the church. It was tender, awkward and funny.

After Sylvia is even better. Sylvia, whom we met in the first book, is Owen’s one true love. In this book, she has moved to the next town. Cumyn spins out a marvelous story in which Owen finds Sylvia in her new neighborhood while selling calendars with monthly pictures of tractors from door to door.

Dear Sylvia is the end of the tale. As Cumyn said during one of his Vermont College of Fine Arts lectures where he is on the faculty, “I just wasn’t quite done with these characters. Owen had more things to tell Sylvia.”

What I love best about Cumyn’s writing is his ability to bring a depth to a ten year old’s experience and have it ring cathedral bell perfect. What do I mean that? Well, you remember when you were a kid and something happened and it was bigger than you but you didn’t know quite how to describe or hold it or even tell anyone about it. Cumyn gives Owen those moments and then shapes them so he can hold them, even awkwardly, in his ten-year-old hands. Reading those moments, we adults get to smile, remembering.

Now, off to the bookstore, you go. You have a trilogy to dive into, you lucky stiff.

2 Responses to “On The Reading Table-Alan Cumyn”

  1. kumarhane

    Its like you read my mind! You appear to know a lot about this, like you wrote the book in it or something. I think that you could do with a few pics to drive the message home a little bit, but other than that, this is magnificent blog. A great read. I’ll definitely be back.