But I see that this intimacy, this talking about my own interior, puts you off. The fact that I've abandoned my cigars for a dark burl pipe and carry the tobacco in a square of white crumpled paper, as he did, instead of a pouch. That I peruse used book shops for old French paperbacks whose unread pages must be slit apart. François Raspail's Annuare de la Sant
‚ for example, lies at this very moment on my bedside table. I feel you're a good enough friend that I can tell you that I've started—very two weeks or so—to visit a prostitute. And I don't shun disease. One must learn to suffer without complaint and abide pain without reluctance. It is thus—from pain—that pearls are born, a product of the oyster's sickness. It was Van Gogh who taught me all this, my friend, and another lesson too: one pays for even the smallest success.
Each of the stories in Night-Blooming Cereus is set in a different place and time, yet they all deal with the same underlying theme: how the imagination, in its infinite variety, seeks to transcend external events.
A small Jewish boy’s life during the Nazi era grows rich with the sounds and sights of the Arabian Desert when he finds an aged copy of Travels in Arabia Deserta in an Amsterdam cellar. An effete and scholarly collector begins to imitate Van Gogh, the painter he worships. An old woman’s life is shaped by remembrance as she lies in her hospital bed and recounts a voyage through the Greek Islands during World War II. A reporter remembers his part in a college rape as he interviews a Serbian general being held for war crimes in a Dutch prison. A housekeeper embroiders her deepest yearnings into the laundry of the residents of a rooming house.
K. A. Longstreet’s stories are appealing and varied. This collection is unusual in many ways, not the least of which is its breadth. Each story exhibits a dexterous use of detail, often historically based, in providing a landscape for the characters’ experiences and musings.