A few times over a life, you find a book that inspires a physical kind of love: you can’t be far from it, stroke it absently for reassurance, take it to bed at night—slip it under your pillow or shove it up under your T-shirt, so it can’t travel far—and reach for it in the morning before you’re coordinated enough to crack the spine. Frank Conroy’s Stop-Time was not that book. It sat patiently on my bedstand for weeks, one in a pile of comely selections from my local library, before migrating beneath my sheets, where it lay with wifely forebearance at my side each night, suffering my intermittent attentions. We grew comfortable with each other, which is not to say I took it for granted—I renewed that mama three times—but something about Conroy’s memoir of a have-not boyhood spent in New York and Florida with a selfish, enigmatic mother and itinerant, grifting step-father, demanded not clinging passion but care and commitment. And its elegant, deceptively spare prose and keenly layered evocations of the elations and disappointments of youth were willing to wait for me to wise up. When I finally finished the book, satisfied-sad and a little wonderstruck, I tried to renew Stop-Time a fourth time so we could start over, do it right. But someone else was waiting, willing, and I had to let it go.
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