THE HANDFUL OF TIMES I’ve ever been asked to advise new writers, I’ve gone back to something I once read from, or perhaps projected onto, Haruki Murakami: ideas are lonely creatures. A story based solely on one has nowhere to go and can never light your path in the dark. Writing, he said, is nothing more than the act of waiting, waiting for the lonely creature you’ve captured to find its companion. That’s when things get interesting.
I could praise Benjamin Swett’s “What I Wanted to Tell You about the Wind” for the quality of the prose, which is immaculate, or the gentility of the images, which the author created, but what brings it to life is the transience of two ideas in motion. This is a story you could safely describe as being about Shaker architecture, something I knew zero about until I first saw the manuscript; specifically the erratic movement of sunlight through the windows of those buildings, which I’m told were carefully placed. Clearly there’s a contrast between the angular structures and the ineffable pools of light flooding them that the author found to be pleasing. But on its own, that juxtaposed imagery supports less than half a story, something you probably couldn’t even call a story. And you see immediately in the finished story a restlessness with that one idea, a need to draw it closer to its nearest peer.
This is equally a story you could safely describe as being about memory, and specifically the elasticity of definition around what we think of as the past. Clearly there’s a contrast, as well, between the precision and immediacy of certain memories the author was (maybe still is) entranced by, and the haze by which they were or are surrounded. And that too is a pleasing entry point for a story—though maybe one that would be harder to photograph—but you see, as you read, an attentiveness to the ways in which that entry point leads to the Shakers. A willingness to follow an illuminated patch of wood floor to the next in an endless string of memories. And a faith that every time one idea is touched by another, it grows larger and more complex and more inviting and more dangerous. The best work is desperate to weave that connecting thread, and to see it take shape over the course of this story is a gift.