Monday, October 6, 2014

"Not Now But Now," by M.F.K. Fisher

M.F.K. Fisher was a widely revered food and travel -- but especially food -- writer, a literary one. Although she lived and traveled all over, she was perhaps especially famous here in the San Francisco Bay Area, living north of San Francisco for many years. She died there in 1992. I have only read a few excerpts of her writing, and know her mostly by reputation. But when I saw a copy of her only novel, “Not Now but Now” (Viking, 1947, North Point 1982) at our monthly library sale, I bought it on the strength of that reputation. It is the story of Jennie, a stylish and irresistible woman who appears at various points in the past century, always on a train, and meets various people whom she proceeds to enchant. It is very important to her to feel this power, but at some point the people she gets involved with become suspicious and even resentful of her, feeling betrayed, and she walks away from the situation, telling herself she prefers to be free. There is some magic, some fantasy, and much psychology in these linked stories of the same woman, always young, although in situations decades apart. But the novel is a bit too schematic, and the character is not likeable. There is an “Afterword” in which the author says she basically wrote the novel because her publishers urged her to do so, and she did it almost as a lark, and in hopes of making money from it. For me, reading this admission made me like the novel even less. Obviously Fisher was just saying what many authors must have felt, but her candor was off-putting rather than endearing.

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