The Journal I Did Not Keep: New and Selected Writing

The Journal I Did Not Keep: New and Selected Writing


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"For almost six decades Segal has quietly produced some of the best fiction and essays in American literature, as this generous sampler attests."—The New York Times

 "Segal is a monumental writer, one of the finest of her generation; this lovely collection is a fine introduction to her work."—Kirkus Reviews


From the award-winning New Yorker writer comes this essential volume spanning almost six decades. Admired for “a voice unlike any other” (Cynthia Ozick) and a style both “wry and poignant” (The New Yorker), Lore Segal is a master literary stylist.

This volume collects some of her finest work—including new and uncollected writing—and selections from her novels, stories, and essays.

From her very first story—which appeared in The New Yorker in 1961—to today, Segal’s voice has been unique in contemporary American literature: Hilarious and urbane, heartbreaking and profound, keen and utterly unsentimental.

Segal has often used her own biography as both subject and inspiration: At age ten she was sent on the Kindertransport from Vienna to England to escape the Nazi invasion of Austria; grew up among English foster families; and eventually made her way to the United States. This experience was the impetus for her first novel, Other People’s Houses, and one that she has revisited throughout her career.
From that beginning, Segal’s writing has ranged widely across form as well as subject matter. Her flawless prose and light touch belie the rigor and intelligence she brings to her art—qualities that were not missed by the New York Times reviewer who pointedly observed, “though it was not written by a man . . . Segal may have come closer than anyone to writing The Great American Novel.”

With this volume comes a long-awaited career retrospective of an important American Writer.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781612197470
Publisher: Melville House Publishing
Publication date: 06/25/2019
Pages: 448
Sales rank: 434,977
Product dimensions: 5.80(w) x 8.60(h) x 1.40(d)

About the Author

LORE SEGAL is the author of the Pulitzer Prize finalist Shakespeare's Kitchen, as well as the novels Half the Kingdom, Lucinella, Other People's Houses and Her First American. She is the recipient of the American Academy and the Institutes of Arts and Letters Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, The O'Henry Prize and the Harold U. Ribalow Prize. She has written for The New Yorker, The New York Times, Harper's Magazine, The New Republic, and numerous other publications. She has also written children's books and translates from the German. Segal lives and works in New York City.

CATHERINE LACEY is author of the novels Nobody is Ever Missing and The Answers, and most recently, the short story collection Certain American States.

Read an Excerpt

The Journal I Did Not Keep: New and Selected Writing

That Henry James, when he got old, rewrote his early work was my excuse for revisiting, at ninety, a story I had written in my twenties, about a day my father and I spent in the Austrian Alps.

I wished Mutti were coming, but she had woken with one of her migraines. I stood outside the hotel, in the grass, getting my shoes wet with dew, waiting and wanting for nothing. “Light tinkled among the trees,” and the “grasses gleamed sword-like,” says my story. Curious how our language asks for similes. What is something “like”? The sky was “like liquid light,” I wrote. “Liquid” is close, but it’s not quite the right word. “The mountain’s back looked like something sculpted; one had the feel of the distant footpath in the fingertips. Between the mountain and myself, the land cupped downward, containing light like a mist.” How was it “like a mist,” the essence of which is to obscure? I remember it as a white, chilly presence. A dog barked and barked and barked and the purity of the air carried the sound to where I stood waiting.

On the road at the end of the hotel gardens, a group of silent walkers passed at the steady pace of those who have a day’s march ahead of them, young people. I followed them with my eyes. This was the moment that the sun crested the mountain—a sudden unobstructed fire. It outlined the young people’s backs with a faintly furred halo, while here, in the garden, it caught the head of a silver dandelion, fiercely, tenderly transfigured into light. I experienced a bliss of thought, new and inevitable, and I said, “Lieber Gott, if I ever ask you for anything, you don’t even have to listen, because nothing is necessary except this.” I knew that was right because of my vast happiness, and then my father called me and we walked out of the garden and started up the road.

My Vati was a tall man in excellent spirits. In August, the Viennese banks closed. In the mountains, my father wore knickerbockers and an Alpine hat with a feather. In his pocket he had a book in which to look up the names of the wayside flowers, trees, and birds. As we climbed, he pointed through the pines to the village farther and farther away below us. Vati’s plan was to reach the Alm by noon and take our lunch in the Alm hut. Did I know, he asked me, what an Alm was? It was a meadow high in the mountains where the cowherd brought all the cows from the valley to spend the summer eating the healthful upper grass, but I was being the world-famous ice-skating star Lucinda in her velvet dress with a skirt that swirled when I did my world-famous pirouette and I couldn’t listen to what my father was explaining.

Oh, but the sky was blue! It is bluest when you lie on your side and look through the grasses that grow by your cheek. I watched a spider climb a stalk that bent under its weight.

I sat up. People were coming along the path, two men—young men walking together, one talking, using his hands. The other, who walked with his eyes to the ground, brought up his head and said something that made the first one shout with laughter. I watched them. They slowed their steps to look back at the people coming behind them. One of the girls called gaily, and the two groups joined. That was what I wanted to do when I got older—walk with friends, talking together and laughing.

I looked after them with a suddenly sharpened interest. “You know something? Vati? I think those are the people I saw on the road this morning, when I was waiting for you. Vati, do you think they are the same people?”

Vati was asleep. It was rare, it was awesome, to see a sleeping grown-up. His two shoes pointed skyward. Where his trouser leg folded back it exposed a piece of leg above the sock. I averted my eyes.

We resumed our ascent and it was hot and grew hotter. The climb became harder and steeper, until I thought I could not lift my foot to take the next step, and the next, and the next for the several hours it took us to reach the top.

It was many years later, lying in the semidark and stillness, cleaned up and dry, after birthing my baby, my first—I could see where she lay wrapped, not crying, and everything was well—that I remembered sitting at long last, after climbing beyond my strength, under a tree in the shade, breathing in and out.

You know you have reached the top of the mountain when you are looking at a new world, the existence of which, a moment ago, you could not have suspected, ranges upon ranges paling into the blue distance, and here a peak rising and a second and a third, the relation in which they stand to one another becoming familiar under the blue sky. On the green expanse the cows stand, or move a step from here to there. When they lower their slow heads to chew the grass, the bells around their necks softly jingle.

My young folk sat at a long trestle table in the Alm hut. The cowherd, who sat with them, had a pipe between his teeth. The rumble of his voice, interrupted by the young people’s chatter and laughter, made its way to the table where my Vati and I were having our Mittagessen. It was a meal that I still think about and have not been able to reproduce: Kaiserschmarrn (the Emperor’s Pancake) served with blueberries. Alpine blueberries grow low to the ground and are both sweeter and sharper than the fruit you know. And a glass of fresh cow’s milk.

I ate and watched. The girls were pretty and talked; the boys were tall and thin. I could see their knees. I loved how they clapped one another on the back and put pepper in one another’s soup and liked one another. I wanted to talk about them and I asked Vati who they were and where they were going, but he quieted me with a gesture. Vati, a city man, took an interest in the Alpine type and wanted to listen to what the cowherd was saying.

There was a general movement—the meal was breaking up. The young people gathered themselves. Vati and I followed them out of the cool dark of the hut into the sheer heat of midday. One of the boys, whose yellow hair jutted over his forehead, stood by the door adjusting the straps of his rucksack. Vati also took an interest in young people and questioned the boy about his party and their plans. Leaning against my father’s leg, I listened to the boy’s companionable answers and felt that life could offer no better happiness. Vati was reminded of his own young touring days and launched upon an anecdote. It was hot. I squeezed my eyes against the fierce brightness in which the blond boy’s head expanded and contracted among the little waves of heat. Vati’s voice proceeded upon the air, wanting to convey an idea of the exact conical rock formation that had been attempted. He described the attempt, and the failure that he, Vati, had predicted. I watched the boy’s hands play nervously with the ends of his straps and said, “Vati!” saw the boy’s eyes steal to where his companions waited a little way along the path, and said, “Vati, let’s go!” Vati was recounting the witty remark made by himself in connection with said attempt and failure, laughing largely, recalling the occasion. The blond boy cackled foolishly. I saw the boy looking foolish and tugged on Vati’s sleeve. “Let’s go!” The boy excused himself, had his hand wrung long and heartily, dived for his freedom, and was received with laughter and a round of applause.

My face burned and I did not turn to look after the young people. They were going farther on and Vati and I started on our homeward journey.

The intensity of the midday light had burned the color out of things and deadened them. I was angry with the boy who had not wanted to hear Vati’s story and had wanted to get away from Vati. I hated the young people who had clapped their hands and had laughed. My father was walking along in a flow of spirits, and I was sorry for him because I had not cared to listen to the things he wanted to tell me. I resented and disliked this bad feeling, which would not let me be comfortable and be Lucinda the world-famous skating star.

And I began to grizzle. I was tired, I said. There was a stone in my shoe and I didn’t feel like carrying my cardigan. Vati stopped his yodelling and looked at me. There was no stone. Vati put the cardigan in his backpack. I rubbed my right temple with the back of my right hand and said I wanted to go home. We were going home, Vati said, we were on our way home, but I meant home now. Vati said, “We’ll be home soon, we’re almost home, in a couple of hours.” He offered to tell me the story of Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, and the fight between the mongoose and the snake, but he had told it to me before. “How about an ice cream when we get home?” I understood that my father did not know what to do with me when I was like this, and I was afraid. I knew that this was God’s awe-full answer, for hadn’t I told him in the morning, “If I ever ask you for anything, you don’t have to listen, because nothing is necessary except this?”

The sun was gone, all light absorbed by the ring of mountains that stood around us, soft and velvet purple, without the play of color or movement save for our panicked descent. My father had hold of my wrist and hurried me along so that the stones rolled underfoot.

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