You have read War and Peace. Now here is Sister Carrie, not up to Tolstoy; still it will second the real world: predictable planes and levels, pavement that holds you, stairs that lift you, ice that trips you, nights that begin after sunset, four lunar phases, a finite house.
I give you Dreiser although (or because) I am no longer sure. Lately I have been walking into glass doors. Through the car windows, curbs disappear. On the highway, wrong turnoffs become irresistible, someone else is controlling the wheel. Sleepless nights pile up like a police record; all my friends are getting divorced. Language, my old comrade, deserts me; words are misused or forgotten, consonants fight each other between my upper and lower teeth. I write "fiend" for "friend" and "word" for "world", remember comes out with an "m" missing.
I used to be able to find my way in the dark, sure of the furniture, but the town I lived in for years has pulled up its streets in my absence, disguised its buildings behind my back. My neighbor at dinner glances at his cuffs, his palms; he has memorized certain phrases, but does not speak my language. Suddenly I am aware no one at the table does.
And so I give you Dreiser, his measure of certainty: a table that's oak all the way through, real and fragrant flowers, skirts from sheep and silkworms, no unknown fibers; a language as plain as money, a workable means of exchange; a world whose very meanness is solid, mud into mortar, and you are sure of what will injure you.
I give you names like nails, walls that withstand your pounding, doors that are hard to open, but once they are open, admit you into rooms that breathe pure sun. I give you trees that lose their leaves, as you knew they would, and then come green again. I give you fruit preceded by flowers, Venus supreme in the sky, the miracle of always landing on your feet, even though the earth rotates on its axis.