On a soggy Saturday before Labor Day, as rain dripped from the eaves, dampened the windowpanes, and discouraged any thoughts of barbecues, backyard swims or edging the lawn, I sat on the sofa, opened a paperback copy of Susan Hill’s novel, “The Mist in the Mirror,” and found more bad weather waiting inside.
Here’s how Hill starts her story about a man who seeks a new life in England, then finds a ghost instead:
“Rain, rain all day, all evening, pouring autumn rain. Out in the country, over field and fen and moorland, sweet-smelling rain, borne on the wind. Rain in London, rolling along gutters, gurgling down drains.
“Street lamps blurred by rain. A policeman walking by in a cape, rain gleaming silver on its shoulders. Rain bouncing on roofs and pavements, soft rain falling secretly in woodland and on dark heath. Rain on London’s river, and slanting among the sheds, wharves and quays.
“Rain on suburban gardens, dense with laurel and rhododenron. Rain from north to south and from east to west, as though it had never rained until now, and now might never stop.”
One of the oldest clichés in literature, as we all know, is the opening of a suspense yarn with the observation, “It was a dark and stormy night.” But Hill has the wisdom to know that things become clichés because we take comfort in using them often. And she’s clever enough to find new angles on established formulas, which is why the rain in her novel seemed as real to me as the storm outside my door.
That makes me wonder what happens next in “The Mist in the Mirror,” a novel I’d planned to read this summer, yet can’t get around to finishing.
Summer reading season concludes each Labor Day weekend, but summer is always shorter than my summer reading list. I unpacked our suitcases from a vacation trip weeks ago, but a canvas bag of books I’d toted for the getaway still sits on the front table.
In keeping it there, I can fool myself a bit longer into thinking that summer is still around. Eventually, though, I’ll restock each volume on the living room shelf and return the beach bag to the closet, where it will rest until next year with the swim shoes and sun screen.
But summer reading, unlike summer swimming or summer tubing, can be done any time of the year. And my reading schedule, truth be told, is always months behind. “An American Childhood,” an Annie Dillard memoir on my summer reading list, entered my house as a Christmas gift last winter.
The best thing about reading, I guess, is that it allows you to escape time for a while, entering a place where the clock and calendar really don’t matter.
Those escapes don’t arrive too often. Here’s hoping for another weekend morning of steady rain, a full fridge and not much ahead of me but the book in my lap.
Follow Danny Heitman on Twitter, @Danny_Heitman.