Previously on Writer Working, we’ve seen Evan S. Connell tackle the life of James Armstrong Custer in Son of The Morning Star and his novel, Mr. Bridge. The Custer book was a winner, Mr. Bridge less so. Prompted by friend/relative Dan I took a peek at another of his non-fiction ventures, A Long Desire, a collection of articles connected by theme of people obsessed with discovery, or at least with searching. Connell’s eclectic curiosity reminds me of one of my favorites, Bill Bryson, whose At Home I reviewed not too long ago. He used his house and its individual history to delve into the history of houses everywhere, into the language connected with various rooms and uses, and somehow out of one small English country dwelling, one gets a good look at the history of an entire culture and language.
Similarly, Connell starts us off with the story of a young man determined to sail a Chinese Junk from Hong Kong to America. He starts out, is forced to turn back and do some remodeling on his boat. Then he starts out again. Doesn’t give up. Turns out he should have. From there, we’re treated to the stories of a plethora of characters, historical and modern, but mostly historical, who travel by land and sea for purposes ranging from the search for gold or spices to the Northwest Passage, to the mythical Prester John (that search went lasted for several centuries, off and on.) to a way to turn lead (or something, anything) into gold. Thus, thanks to Connell, we have between two covers Richard Halliburton, Mary Kingsley, Marco Polo, Coronado, and various Popes and potentates all holding hands in the common yearning to reach beyond where they are toward another place. Some times with a specific goal in mind. Sometimes just because whatever’s out there is out there and I’m here and I can’t stand to sit still.
Quite a feat.