By Charles Matthews

Sunday, September 12, 2010

2. Silk Parachute, by John McPhee, pp. 43-55

Silk Parachute"Swimming With Canoes" and "Warming the Jump Seat"
Two small reminiscences with the usual McPhee finesse, although I rather question the hyperbole in this observation about canoeing at summer camp:
We were like some sort of crustaceans with our rib-and-planking exoskeletons, and to this day I do not feel complete or safe unless I am surrounded by the protective shape of a canoe.
That must present some problems for McPhee's friends and family, especially as he later writes, "Almost anything will panic me -- health, money, working with words." I take pills for that, but I doubt that they would help me in the one situation that McPhee says doesn't instill panic in him: "an overturned canoe in a raging gorge." Sorry, but I can't relate.

The other article is a kind of behind-the-scenes piece about Frank L. Boyden, the Deerfield Academy headmaster that McPhee profiled, first in the New Yorker and then in a book called, naturally, The Headmaster. McPhee tells us that he went to Deerfield for only a year, after graduating from Princeton High School and before entering Princeton University. "Deerfield Academy was my mother's idea. Before I went to college, she wanted me out of town and more mature." Since McPhee's mother was the first person referred to in this book -- in "Silk Parachute" -- I note that her role in his life seems to be dominant over his father's. (Wikipedia says his father was physician for Princeton University's athletic department.) The only other reference to his father so far in this collection is a rather snide one: He recalls going to the Broadway theater with his mother on his birthday. "Evidently, my father had written for the tickets, because she and I sat in the last row of the second balcony." In other words, Daddy was a cheapskate.

No comments:

Post a Comment