The Inner Life of Objects

From Charles Baxter’s essay, “Talking Forks: Fiction and the Inner Life of Objects,” from his book, Burning Down the House: Essays on Fiction:

“During the time I worked on this essay, I tried to explain its subject to my wife and son, at dinner. My son, who was fifteen, let it be known that he did not understand what I was talking about and when he did understand it, he didn’t like it and thought I had gone off the deep end.  ‘The inner life of objects?’ he’d ask. ‘Is that like…uh, talking forks?’ And I’d say, ‘Yes, that is what it’s like. Those odd moments when things seem to say something.’ ‘What odd moments?’ he’d ask.

Outside the window is an apple tree. It is August as I write these sentences. For the last few days a squirrel has been foraging in the tree, and sometimes it descends low enough on one of the branches in front of my study window to take a good look at me. It can stare at me for two minutes without moving. Then it goes back to its business, as I do mine.

We do not spray the tree, and the apples growing there are mostly green or wormy. During the time that I have been writing this essay, the apples have been falling to the ground in the backyard. Every now and then, writing a sentence, I have heard the sound of an apple hitting the earth. Before the sound of that impact, there is a breath, a swish, as the fruit drops through the branches and leaves. It is not a sigh but sounds like one. The sound has nothing to do with my current moods, but I listen for it, and I have been counting the number of apples that have fallen during the last ten pages of this essay. There have been eighteen.”

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