CORRECTION OF DRIFT: A NOVEL IN STORIES (2008)
by PAMELA RYDER
Explores the lives behind the headlines of the Lindbergh baby kidnapping, evoking anew the scope of tragedy through the vision of literary fiction.
It was called the crime of the century, and it was front-page news: the Lindbergh baby kidnapping. Correction of Drift: A Novel in Stories imagines the private lives behind the headlines of the case, and examines the endurance—and demise—of those consumed by the tragedy.
"Pamela Ryder opens up the well-known story of the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby to illuminate the ways we drift off course—perpetrator, victim, caretaker, witness—and are subsumed by the dream of memory and longing. With gorgeously precise language, she slips between the cracks in intractable surfaces, revealing the inexpressible word."
“Correction of Drift is a dreamy divagation of a novel, an elegiac lullaby, soothing and terrible, sung over the empty crib in the Lindbergh nursery. Ryder reimagines the event in shard-like sentences, some pretty as beach glass and others ugly and sharp, and these sentences and the sentence fragments and the headlines and ransom notes accrue to powerful effect until even the table scraps, "crusts, bones, trimmings of fat," seem ominous portents of violence and loss.”
It remains unclear why the family dog, who often slept outside the nursery door, did not bark as the boy was taken from his crib, or why the Colonel and Mrs. Lindbergh did not hear the rungs of the ladder crack.
Princeton Free Press
They lit out on foot, in wing tips, in oxfords-black & white, and ox-blood brown-and sharp-toed boots of yellow buck with high tops and a fancy stitch-hurrying along the moon-bright road, following the markers of snowpatch in ditches and the vapors of the one of them ahead-hard breaths of men in suits and city shoes too thin-soled for a country thoroughfare, wrong for these parts. Pinstripe, worsted, herringbone. Sporting fedoras. Single file as they go, these three-over ruts and dips, over small stones heaved out by freeze along the road cut, the man in front clutching his suit coat closed one-handed at his throat, carrying in the other by its handle-grasps a satchel of the sort that country doctors or burglars are thought to keep, or spinsters traveling by rail might set in their laps-but he is none of these. Nor are the other two behind him, rounding a bend and swinging widely with the burden that they tote between them: a ladder carried by its sidepiece, the rungs crudely cut. Faint blue marks of carpenter's chalk. A hasty nail here and there piercing together boards of sapwood and yellow pine. Measured. Sawed. Tested for their weight, for their steps-now hard upon the frozen road, this lane newly made through old stands of oak and ash, hacked through to the house beyond. A fieldstone in the old style, whitewashed and double-storied-they can see it through woods wind-swept of leaves, as it is this time of year when what went cold and slow of heart before the first frost tunneled underground to wait out warmer weather now starts to stir. In burrows. Dens. Back rooms. In boardinghouses of longing and petty discontent, abode of bail jumpers, repeat offenders, wife-smackers. In cellars and speakeasies. In foul alleys slimed with the spittle of idlers and shirkers skilled at no trade but the swindle, the conspiracy to commit. Clever with the concealed weapon; handy with the shiv. Men who winter in custody, in lockups, in sorry apartments of single occupancy or in flats where wives wait up. Wrung hands and handkerchiefs. Accusations. Alibis. In rented rooms and in dismal kitchens. In the corridors of old hotels lacking bellhop or porter where the rooms are rosy each evening with the pulse of neon in the window, bleak by the light of day. Dwellings of ne'er-do-wells set loose upon these far wooded districts, this frozen country lane.
They move on with the moon behind them and the last seep of sundown on the hills and drifts. Lacework of trees above the ridge. So still a day. One of them remembering a sky such the same as this but long ago, one late afternoon of sledding-yes, the same light, he thinks, one of them does, and those trees, too, in silhouette, the same-Billy! That's enough I said. Now I said. You get on in here William. Why you're half-frozen and where is your other mitten?-and the other one remembering the buckets of mums and buckets of roses in the evening at the trolley stop. The people stepping down from the lighted cars in the early dusk and saying: Evening, evening, yes good evening, not so cold for nearly Christmas is it? And well I see you've got your boy with you tonight. Helping out and learning the business are you Bean? And people walking on past or stopping to buy. A bud for your lapel sir? A bouquet to take home to the little missus? Pass me two of those long stems there Bean. That's it Bernard and put in a sprig of baby's breath for the lady. Scent of spring and cut green things this winter's eve. Fern wrapped in paper and carnations in bunches: the all-white ones and the ones with petals spattered red-candy-cane carnations is what he called them and sometimes he called them peppermint. But aren't you cold. Aren't you cold and can't we go home now Pop? and the third man remembering the cold the men brought in on their linen coats and the canvas bed they carried and the snow tracked in on the bedroom floor and Mutter takes the handkerchief she always holds to her mouth and takes it down but never says about the wet or tells them go back and wipe your feet the way she always says. The way she always tells him to. Instead she makes his name-Rudy-with her mouth like making a kiss but the spittle and they take up the canvas bed by the long poles and her mouth says something but the spittle again and the blood and they lift her in. Yes, so very still a day.
They travel on under early stars and the tree shadows that stripe the road and fold over the slopes, accommodating each mound, each rut. A grove of spruce. Long cones. A storm-split oak, downed limbs cracked with many winters' weight-but that one fork where you can put your foot. You get down from there Bean! You hear me Bernard? That branch will never hold-trunk split and decaying heartwood deep.
The man in front stops and puts his satchel roadside on a stone. The two coming along just behind him set the ladder on its sidepiece. Cigarettes are shaken from the pack. Rasp of match head on the bootheel of his yellow bucks. They lean in, faces chrome-blue with moonlight, then flame-bright, and they stand hunched and stamping as they suck the smoke in long breaths. None speak. Whatever wind there was has ceased, or nearly so. The snow has started, a sifting of it down upon these woods-of late called the Colonel's woods-a fine and grainy snow, imperceptible in its descent and told only as a hiss: the fall of it on the crown of a fedora, the hush of it one of them hears along the brim-a kettle hardly at a simmer. Do hurry with that tea will you please Mrs. Grogan and give your Billy there a cup. The whisper of it the other one of them listens for in the boughs of spruce, in the boughs of ash and-in the dune wind where the beach grass grows and in a shell cast up and held to his ear and the spits of foam sliding over his feet. Take him by the gill Bernard. Mind the hook there Bean. No downside up it goes with the slit longways down the belly and mind that blade-that's innards just like you. Mind your fingers. And the sigh of it one of them knows beneath his boot soles, in the old leaves in the ditches-The long locomotive hiss in the hollow of the station. Smell of steam and smoke. Mutter's hand. Papa's glove. The big valise with the broken lock. The latch. The scuff. Chocolate with the foil peeled back. The row of little window shades. One comes up. Papa's glove. Mutter's hand waving back. Rudy, sag tschüss, Papa! Sag tschüss! Snow clouds thin as mist at the tree line. The moon veiled. A shape blacker than the sky behind it drops from its perch, crosses overhead in silence and in silence ascends. "See that?" says one of them but no man will answer that he has. They take their final draws of smoke. They toss away the butts that rise and glow in brief, bright arcs-and fall as stars are thought to do, or comets might in stories. See that one Bernard? And oh another. There it goes Bean just like a snowball but a tail made of stardust that sparks and catches fire. Fix your coat. Button up. Watch now. Listen to your Pop. Oh you missed it. Oh look up boy. Look up.