Wednesday, September 7, 2011

From The World of Henry Orient

Marian Gilbert lives in the Sixties on Manhattan’s East Side. She is visiting a friend in Greenwich Village for the first time:

The food was delightful, and not at all the sort of thing we ever had at home. Plates of cold meat, a basket of rye bread, bowls of mayonnaise and butter, lettuce and sliced tomatoes, and a kind of pie made out of cheese and bacon. The Hamblers dranks beer and we had cold milk from a crockery pitcher. We all took some of everything, and as the others piled most of the food on the bread to make sandwiches, I did the same. It was delicious, the sun poured in through the window, and I began to feel as though I had stumbled on a small heaven.

Nora Johnson, The World of Henry Orient (1958)
I’ve loved the 1964 film The World of Henry Orient (dir. George Roy Hill) since kidhood and thought it would be smart to read the novel, which turns out to be just as terrific. Gil narrates, so we see as little of the mysterious pianist Henry Orient as Gil and her friend Valerie Campbell Boyd see. In other words, there is no part for Peter Sellers here: the novel is about children. But it’s for grownups, much darker and sadder than the film (screenplay by Johnson and her father Nunnally Johnson).

The passage above reminds me of my kidhood fascination with delicatessen food, the stuff of all true feasts. Gil’s “a kind of pie made out of cheese and bacon” adds the perfect touch of naiveté. (Or naiftiness, as Lucy van Pelt would say.)

Nora Johnson is still writing, and she has a website.

[How do you spell naiftiness?]

comments: 3

Elaine said...

For *years* our whole family would use, 'HE's not afraid,' quoting from that movie. Now I have to try and find the novel, I guess.

'Naiftiness' seems the only way to spell it, if you ask me.

Michael Leddy said...

That’s a great line (not in the novel, by the way).

AbeBooks and Alibris have copies, and there’s always interlibrary loan. I’d say it’s worth seeking out.

I know that Lucy has used that word, but I can’t find a single reference online. I searched with every spelling I could imagine.

Michael Leddy said...

For anyone wondering, the line Elaine quoted is about Henry’s smoking unfiltered cigarettes.