When I think of a pond, I imagine a small lake. However, when I visit my friend’s cabin on a “pond” in Maine I see a large lake. Relativity in water sources.
I came across a book recently titled Pond by Claire-Louise Bennett which was published last year by a small press in Ireland. Not a book organized around a narrative, it contains twenty stories most of which are also not narrative. An odd psychological collection where we enter the narrator’s world of fragmented segments, questions and moods.
One reviewer said it was “a work of fiction that will make you feel pleasantly insane.” That name-dropping review by Jia Tolentino sets the bar high by saying that the collection “…recalls works by Knut Hamsun and Samuel Beckett, in which characters are more obviously forced into states of isolation… the cottage hymns of Katharine Tynan, the pure formal eccentricity of Emily Dickinson, and the dread-laced, detonating uncertainty of W. B. Yeats” – and that the book is a “photonegative of Walden.”
Though that collection is not about ponds, it did make me think of Henry David Thoreau who will be best remembered for two years he spent beside a pond. Is Bennett’s narrator like the self-reliant Thoreau. No, though solitude plays a part in both stories, H.D. looks to find place in the natural world and the narrator of Pond seems to be disconnecting from the world.
Henry David Thoreau lived on the shore of a pond for two years starting in the summer of 1845 and eventually wrote about it in Walden; or, Life in the Woods. In that small piece of woods that he made famous (land owned by his friend and mentor, Ralph Waldo Emerson) Thoreau unintentionally sparked a respect for nature and more than a few people on an environmental path.
His pond was Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts which is a kettle hole formed by retreating glaciers 10,000–12,000 years ago. As I have written earlier about Thoreau and Walden Pond, many people often imagine his life there as one of a hermit, he was actually quite social with regular visitors. I was very surprised and amused to learn long after I first read the book that he made frequent visits into town and to his nearby family home to get some of his mom’s cookies.
But he did isolate himself from society with the intention to write about it with greater objectivity. His experiment in simple living and self-sufficiency wasn’t one of survival and wilderness, though compared to the majority of us living today it seems to be a very radical undertaking.