Dear Randon Billings Noble-
For a period, I was a dedicated fan of the British Sherlock Holmes series on Granada television. Enthralled by Jeremy Brett’s portrayal of the detective, I kept a photo of him displayed on my desk. I watched episodes over and over, fascinated with the central character and the mix of contradictions and elusiveness that his character embodied: the way that he blended in, assumed disguises, and went against the grain; his skill in combat, both mental and physical; the way that he surrendered to danger.
Reading your book, Be With Me Always, I am reminded again of Sherlock Holmes in your approach to every haunting, and every visitation of your body by a ghost. Holmes makes an appearance in your list essay, “69 Inches of Thread, Scarlet and Otherwise”, but I noticed the similarities before this. When you ripped through Vivaldi arpeggios without realizing you had an audience, I pictured Holmes playing his Stradivarius. In “A Pill to Cure Love” you dissect the way a body metabolizes a love affair, and I pictured Holmes performing extractions in his home chemistry lab. Holmes’ devotion to justice, I liken to your hunger for understanding your ghosts. As Holmes hunts for criminals, driven by empathy and a lust for intellectual challenge, so too, do you hunt for your ghosts.
This collection of essays is evocative of a ghost story and mystery in one. The essays make us aware of things around us (mirrors, birdsong, paintings, shell casings) or things inside us (grief, nostalgia, vanity, desire) that we didn’t see before but suddenly beckon us. In your own words, “We can’t control when the ghost materializes or what drives it away. Sometimes it’s a presence, more often an absence. “Let me in,” says the voice at the window, “I’m come home.” Each essay stands alone, capable of being extracted from the others, but contains threads that run through all of them, the thread unraveled from the red skein, as you delve deeper and deeper to meet your ghosts.
The ghosts in the essays are lost loves, mirrors, cancer, hallucinations, youth, memories, paintings, silence, fantasies, widows. They are things that visit or enter the body and leave an imprint. The clues are etymologies, stretch marks, cemeteries, a biopsy, a cross necklace, your Grandmother’s rings, books. The clues are also the collection of historical and fictional characters that you weave into each essay, from Dracula to Henry the VIII. You give us the sense that your story is connected to seemingly disparate bodies. Through your story, these bodies are unified across time and space, made real. Like a good detective, your range of methods of examination is astounding: intertextuality, etymologies, strikethroughs, inference, lists, micros, a poem, a medical care plan, and close examination of the clues and ghosts.
During detective work, Holmes sometimes brings us close to danger. We welcome it and fear it with exhilaration. You bring us to the cusps of danger, and clarity, silence, betrayal and death, then return us to ourselves with insight each time. You are both in the scene and removed from it at the same time, as when describing your split selves after an accident: “But the whimpering, squealing me knew that second self, calm and clear, was there as well, attending me during those moments of separation.” This separation allows the common threads of each essay, the ghosts, to stand out as red threads on their backdrop.
Every essay left me with the feeling of being visited by something that I couldn’t name or rationalize into existence. Your essays create that feeling of great potential in the morning before we’re fully awake. As “On Silence” suggests, the gaps, the absence of what you write, feels more like a presence. Just as every observation that Holmes makes baits us with anticipation, we wait for yours, too, Randon.
With You Always,