My Uncle Louis

My Uncle Louis
by Robert Fontaine
294 pgs. McGraw-Hill, 1953.

In much of the fiction from the middle of the last century there is something warm and engaging. Of course, as in all time periods, there were adventurous innovators and writers taking on all kinds of dark subjects, but many books written about then-contemporary life or domestic family dramas (or, especially, comedies) seem to welcome the reader to a more relaxed, less complicated world. And they sometimes surprise us with their licentious attitudes and their openness to the idea of simply enjoying life.

Take a look, for example, at the opening lines from My Uncle Louis:

I came home one day from school and found my Uncle Louis stretched out on the divan, a water cooler of wine by his side. He was sleeping calmly and did not open his eyes when I entered. I stood looking at him for a long time, wondering.

And indeed, a sense of wonder lies at the heart of this comic tale in which the young narrator displays a clear appreciation for his unconventional uncle who has moved in with his Ottawa family indefinitely. Here’s another passage, this time from near the end of the novel – maybe it will entice you to find out what’s on the pages in between:

Thus he went on, purring, intoxicated with his ideas, for ideas had a way of warming my uncle’s mind and heart even more than wine.

And I listened, understanding so very little, yet knowing that it was all sinking in, coiling around my mind like warm, perfumed, and wine-flavored smoke.

This made me dream, even while my uncle was talking, of writing poetry for Sally, of buying her a beautiful gown to wear on a rainy day, of becoming a millionaire, of being a poet, a captain of a ship, a baseball hero, a bon vivant, and a thousand other things.

My uncle’s voice rose, and I blinked, hearing him again, “Above all, realize that the greatest authorities in the world know nothing. Everything is still a mystery. Ask them why the flower grows, and they show you the seed. Ask them from whence comes the seed, and they show you the flower. Inquire where they both come from, and they will explain they must catch a train. The seed, the flower, you and I, and the stars and the worms and the wine in the water cooler, we are all joined in a great configuration, a mysterious and wonderful pattern, not yet clearly seen. Be part of everything, then, in your mind, since everything is part of you. Think always about every mystery and do not be satisfied with the answers of anyone else.”

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