There's no public transport out here in the Arizona countryside, but every now and then I manage to hitch a ride with someone going near a secondhand bookshop. This state has an abundance of Melville, plenty of Twain, multiple copies (at the Mesa Bookmans store) of Zora Neale Hursten's Harlem Renaissance novel, And Their Eyes Were Watching God (all similar too; a nearby school must have it on a reading list), and a good amount of Henry James. I've picked up two-dollar copies of the Sacred Fount and the Ambassadors.
By the third chapter, Ambassadors has already delivered an apogee of fastidious Jamesian sentence-making, a sentence that seems to be trying to, on one hand, look prim, armoured, and fastened in place, and, on the other hand, writhe away off the page or dissolve into mist. It says everything very properly and at the same time you get the feeling that it would prefer not to say anything at all, or somehow avoid having a meaning -- because it takes so long to reach a conclusion, and then, when it arrives, it pulls back. 'Agreeable' becomes a loaded word because it seems to be avoiding something, more vehement perhaps -- or perhaps the character doesn't know, exactly, the word that would describe his feelings just there, so he picks 'agreeable' because it seems to work well enough; he might find out more about those feelings later maybe, after he has spent some time working out whether prepared is the word he needs to use, or if already confirmed would be the right phrase -- in this way he fusses around to distract himself, as if he's trying to get out of the responsibility of finishing his thought.
The discomfort was in a manner contagious, as well as also in a manner inconsequent and unfounded; the visitor felt that unless he should get used to it -- or unless Weymarsh himself should -- it would constitute a menace to his own prepared, his own already confirmed, consciousness of the agreeable.
The nature of the menace is vague. James' menaces are typically vague and potentially endless. (Speaking of: I was lying awake at three a.m. a few nights ago when the Turn of the Screw came into my head, that face pressed against the window, "the hideous author of our woe--the white face of damnation" and that was that for at least half an hour of imagined floating Quints.) Meanwhile the Sacred Fount is the story of a man who decides that he is better than anyone else at detecting secret vampires and spends the rest of the book watching peoples' eyeballs twitch.
There's something of Jane Austen's exactness in James -- the weight he puts on agreeable is the weight that she can set on top of a little word like nice. Those words become mostly punchline or post-preface, like icebergs hiding their keels. "There is nothing that commends a story to memory more effectively than that chaste compactness which precludes psychological analysis," wrote Walter Benjamin, and James, decompacting, diffusing himself across the ether (or, as this is his universe, creating the ether across which he diffuses himself, so that the medium and the matter floating through it are one and the same, the verb and the noun simultaneous, united, indivisible), is elaborately so chaste that his virginity curdles. Psychological analysis might, at any moment during one of his books, begin, but never does. The story is always taking place away to the side somewhere.
(In the Wings of the Dove a woman's doctor tells her that she is deathly, incurably ill, but this takes place on some plane of existance outside the actual book -- we, the readers, only witness a conversation about the weather. This conversation about the weather is the same as the conversation that tells the woman she is going to die; that is, she understands, from this conversation about the weather, that she is going to die, but the information about her deathly illness was conveyed at a pitch too high for the readers' ears, as if spoken in the language of bats or angels. The woman understood it, and her weird saintliness is confirmed).
I've seen a few Australian authors for sale here, and the sight of those names on the spines surprises me every time, except in the case of Peter Carey and Stead's Man Who Loved Children. Both have been spruiked in the US pretty well, so no need for astonishment. Bookmans had all three of Eliot Pearlmans' books, as well as Les Murray's Subhuman Redneck Poems (and a book in the travel section called Around Australia in 22 Days or similar). In a tiny one-room bookshop at the end of a right-angled arcade in Prescott, north of Phoenix, I found anthologised Henry Lawson and Banjo Paterson. Carey turned up in both places, and also in a cellar of books underneath a charity shop across the street from the Coolidge post office. You know where this place is because there is an A-frame board on the pavement outside with Cellar of Books written across it next to an arrow. Everything in the town around it looks defunct, but, behold, below, there is a man with a beard and his Cellar of Books, concrete-walled and cold after the warmth outside.