When I was a child, I told my mother that it was my ambition to meet my favorite authors someday. She told me I couldn’t—they were all dead. (She meant, of course, that her favorite authors were all dead. In her mind we were one person, she and I, and I could have no likes unlike hers.) I’ve lived to prove her wrong. The downside of that, of discovering favorite writers who are one’s contemporaries and of coming to know them, is that sometimes one outlives them.
I’m rereading Terry Pratchett’s THE TRUTH again, which is about newspapering. (My whole family was about newspapering, so the irony cuts in all directions.) This is a bittersweet experience, since Sir Terry passed last month. I’d been awaiting that event with sadness, and even impatience, because my grieving began when I first heard he was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and was backing out of full involvement in his writing. Long before he passed, I already felt angry with fate, stricken, helpless, abandoned.
We met once, but that wasn’t a big deal, since it was a signing and we spent precisely twelve seconds face-to-face.
What I have lost is far more important to me: the prospect of a lifetime of more of his world view, executed in his unmatched voice.
When I was twenty-two, we lost P.G. Wodehouse on Valentine’s Day 1977. I had been fond of his work, but had not yet come to rely on it so heavily as I do now. So by the time Wodehouse was necessary to my happiness and well-being, he was long gone. Same with Rex Stout, Georgette Heyer, and other writers on my keeper shelf whose work I own in multiple copies because they wear out after forty or fifty readings. I’d always known there wouldn’t be any more Georgette Heyer. I was resigned to the finiteness of the Wodehouse œvre.
But I am now coming to grips with the finiteness of Sir Terry’s work. He was angry the way Carl Hiaasen is angry, joyfully and tirelessly imaginative in his skewering of the people and causes and world-views I think are awful. We found the same things beautiful. Even his darkness was shot through with light, as if life was too strong in him to be poisoned by the urge to destroy the world that visits many authors of his years. He poured out love on the sort of people I love. We agreed on what was important. We were intimate in the very best way that an author and his reader can be intimate: he didn’t know me from Eve, and I had all but memorized his work.
And then he got sick. And then he died.
There will be no more of his cynical and wise, kind and reassuring stories of the world as it is, lovingly corrected one story at a time to a world closer to my heart’s desire.
I’ve lost the future Terry Pratchett books, the ones I won’t get to read.
In view of how profoundly his work has affected my life, and the continuing comfort and teaching it provides me with every re-reading, I consider this to be a blow more serious than losing a kidney. I can get by without the kidney. How am I going to become a better person without those unwritten Terry Pratchett books? How can I fulfill my dharma? Where else will those lessons come from?
There is no cure for this pain.
If you love some writer’s work and you feel that they should know that, tell them now.