Thursday, March 03, 2005

I had to fortify my mind with a rereading of Doris Betts' "The Ugliest Pilgrim" before I could go to sleep last night. It was even better than I remembered and seemed a direct response to the wretchedness of the play I mentioned last night. You want to write about a girl's pilgrimage to achieve outer beauty when inner goodness ought to be the goal? You want to write about overcoming fear and inhabiting the Kingdom of Love? Let Doris Betts be your inspirational guide! Watch as she sets Violet Karl, horribly scarred by her father in an accident involving an ax, on the pilgrimage path to Tulsa, Oklahoma, to convince a television preacher that she deserves to be healed of her crippled face just as much as anyone with a bad kidney or a limp:

"The young man wears glasses with no rims. In this glare, I am reflected on each lens, Vi-oh-LETTE and Vii-lut. Oh his desk is a box of postcards of the Hope and Glory Building. Of Glory. Of Glory.

"I am afraid.

"I feel behind me for the chair.

"The man explains that he is presently in charge. The Preacher's speaking in Tallahassee, his show taped weeks ahead. I never thought of it as a show before. He waits.

"I reach inside my notebook where, taped shut, is the thick envelope with everything written down. I knew I could never explain things right. When have I ever been able to tell what I really felt? But it's all in there—my name, my need. The words from the Bible which must argue for me. I did not sit there nights since Papa died, counting my money and studying God's Book, for nothing. Playing solitaire, then going back to search the next page and the next. Stepping outside to rest my eyes on His limitless sky, then back to the Book and the paper, building my case.

"He starts to read, turns up his glitter-glass to me once to check how I look, then reads again. His chair must be hard, for he squirms in it, crosses his legs. When he has read every page, he lays the stack down, slowly takes off his glasses, folds them shining into a case. He leaves it open on his desk. Mica shines like that, in the rocks.

"Then he looks at me, fully. Oh. He is plain. Almost homely. I nearly expected it. Maybe Samuel was born ugly, so who else would take him but God?"

I had no idea until I did an Amazon search this morning that Beasts of the Southern Wild, which includes "The Ugliest Pilgrim," had been reissued. My copy is an old library discard.

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