“April is, by proclamation and curriculum now, the poet’s month. ‘April’ (or ‘Aprill’) is the third word of one of the first great poems in the English language, The Canterbury Tales, and the first word in what does its best to feel like the last great English peom, The Waste Land. April–‘spungy,’ ‘proud-pied,’ and ‘well-apparel’d’ April–is also, along with its springtime neighbor May, the most-mentioned month in Shakespeare, and has given a poetic subject to Dickinson, Larkin, Plath, Gluck, and countless others. Why? Do we like its promise of rebirth, its green and messy fecundity? Its hopefulness is easy to celebrate or, if you’re T. S. Eliot, cruelly undercut, rooting his lilacs in the wasteland of death.”
“…the April date most prominent in our lives now is associated more with death than birth: April 15, the American tax day since 1955. Lincoln, who died that day, had Whitman to mourn him, but Tax Day found few literary chroniclers until David Foster Wallace’s last, unfinished novel, The Pale King, which turns the traditional celebrations of the eternal seasons into the flat, mechanical repetition of modern bureaucratic boredom. In the IRS’s Peoria Regional Examination Center where Wallace’s characters toil, the year has no natural center, just a deadline imposed by federal fiat and a daily in-box of Sisyphean tasks, a calendar that in its very featureless tedium provides at least the opportunity to test the human capacity for endurance and even quiet heroism.” (103-104)
The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer (late 14th century): When you feel the tender shoots and buds of April quickening again, set out in the company of Chaucer’s nine and twenty very worldly devouts, in what has always been the most bawdily approachable of English literature’s founding classics.
The Confidence-Man by Herman Melville: It’s no coincidence that the steamboat in Melville’s great, late novel begins its journey down the Mississippi on April Fool’s Day: The Confidence-Man is the darkest vision of foolishness and imposture–and one of the funniest extended jokes–in American literature.
“When Lilacs Last in the Door-yard Bloom’d” by Walt Whitman (1865) and The Waste Land by T. S. Eliot (1922): Whitman’s elegy, composed soon after Lincoln’s murder, heaps bouquets onto his coffin, and a livelier and more joyful vision of death you’re not likely to find. You certainly won’t in The Waste Land, written after a war equally bloody and seemingly barren of everything but allusions (to Whitman’s funeral lilacs among many others).
The Sportswriter by Richard Ford (1986): Beginning with a Good Friday reunion with his ex-wife on the anniversary of their son’s death, Ford’s indelible ex-sportswriter Frank Bascombe reckons with balancing the small, heart-lifting pleasures of everydayness with the possibilities of disappointment and tragedy that gape underneath them.
The Age of Grief by Jane Smiley (1987): Smiley’s early novella is still her masterpiece, a story of a family swept through by flu and a young marriage struggling to survive the end of its springtime that’s as close to an American version of “The Dead” as anyone has written.
My Garden (Book): by Jamaica Kincaid (1999): “How vexed I often am when I am in the garden, and how happy I am to be so vexed”: Midway through life, Kincaid started planting in her yard in most “ungardenlike” ways, and her garden book is willful and lovely, made of notes in which she cultivates her hatreds as passionately as her affections.
The Likeness by Tana French (2008): Ireland’s French crafted an intrigue with equal elements of the Troubles and The Secret History in her second novel, in which Detective Cassie Maddox is seduced by the mid-April murder of a student who had been playing with an identity disturbingly close to her own.
The Pale King by David Foster Wallace (2011): Don’t expect a novel when you open up The Pale King, culled from manuscripts Wallace left behind at his suicide. Read it as a series of experiments in growing human stories out of the dry soil of bureaucratic tedium, and marvel when real life, out of this wasteland, suddenly breaks through. (105)