He always worked best when Helen was unwell. Just that much discontent and friction. Then there were times when you had to write. Not conscience. Just peristaltic action. Then you felt sometimes like you could never write but after a while you knew sooner or later you would write another good story.
It was really more fun than anything. That was really why you did it. He had never realized that before, it wasn’t conscience, it was simply that it was the greatest pleasure, it had more bite to it than anything else, it was so damn hard to write well, too.
There were so many tricks.
It was easy to write if you used the tricks. Everybody used them. Joyce had invented hundreds of new ones. Just because they were new didn’t make them any better. They would all turn into clichés.
He wanted to write like Cézanne painted.
Cézanne started with all the tricks. Then he broke the whole thing down and built the real thing, it was hell to do. He was the greatest. The greatest for always. It wasn’t a cult. He, Nick, wanted to write about country so it would be there like Cézanne had done it in painting. You had to do it from inside yourself. There wasn’t any trick. Nobody had ever written about country like that. He felt almost holy about it. It was deadly serious. You could do it if you would fight it out. If you’d lived right with your eyes.
It was a thing you couldn’t talk about. He was going to work on it until he got it. Maybe never, but he would know as he got near it. It was a job. Maybe for all his life.
People were easy to do. All this smart stuff was easy. Against this age, skyscraper primitives, Cummings when he was smart, it was automatic writing, not The Enormous Room, that was a book, it was one of the great books. Cummings worked hard to get it.
Was there anybody else? Young Asch had something but you couldn’t tell. Jews go bad quickly. They all start well. Mac had something. Don Stewart had the most next to Cummings. Sometimes in the Haddocks. Ring Lardner, maybe. Very maybe. Old guys like Sherwood. Older guys like Dreiser. Was there anybody else? Young guys, maybe. Great unknowns. There are never any unknowns, though.
They weren’t after what he was after.
He could see the Cézannes. The portrait at Gertrude Stein’s. She’d know it if he ever got things right. The two good ones at the Luxembourg, the ones he’d seen every day at the loan exhibit at Bernheim’s. The soldiers undressing to swim, the house through the trees, one of the trees with a house beyond, not the lake one, the other lake one. The portrait of the boy. Cézanne could do people, too. But that was easier, he used what he got from the country to do people with. Nick could do that, too. People were easy. Nobody knew anything about them. If it sounded good they took your word for it. They took Joyce’s word for it.
He knew just how Cézanne would paint this stretch of river. God, if he were only here to do it. They died and that was the hell of it. They worked all their lives and then got old and died.
Nick, seeing how Cézanne would do the stretch of river and the swamp, stood up and stepped down into the stream. The water was cold and actual. He waded across the stream, moving in the picture. He kneeled down in the gravel on the bank and reached down into the trout sack. It lay in the stream where he had dragged it across the shallows. The old boy was alive. Nick opened the mouth of the sack and slid the trout into the shallow water and watched him move off through the shallows, his back out of water, threading between rocks toward the deep current.
“He was too big to eat,” Nick said. “I’ll get a couple of little ones in front of camp for supper.”
He climbed the bank of the stream, reeling up his line and started through the brush. He ate a sandwich. He was in a hurry and the rod bothered him. He was not thinking. He was holding something in his head. He wanted to get back to camp and get to work.