I was listening to this the other day–I had only just seen the episode attached to it then–and meant to post it, wondering if this thing I love so much, the following of a thread (in music, a leitmotif, I know) down and down, and back and back, is…easily, or often, done in novels. Poetry yes, and stories, but a novel? I didn’t post because I was sure I could think of some novels, and would feel bad for having forgotten them.
And it’s true, there are novels that do this–but the effect is thought to be a cheap one, I think. People regard it as cinematic. Or they don’t trust us, as readers, to remember enough of the rest of the book to make the connections. Ursula, Under does this, as did London and I’m sure every other Edward Rutherford book–that’s just the only one I’ve read. Cloud Atlas did, but in not quite the same way; the same goes for David Mitchell’s other novels–when what you are contributing to is a grand unifying theory of your own unique fictional universes, it’s not quite the same. Another complaint I’ve heard about this tactic came from a mother of adopted kids–she hated when blood got brought into a story as connecting element. Having for years resented the Japanese obsession with blood–in every sense–I can claim to understand that, though not as a parent raging against societal whims beyond her control, it’s true.
But blood aside. I’m less interested in the continuation of genes or the shapes of noses than I am of the species, or of a particular value of the species striven toward through time. That is why this beautiful theme and the actions over which it plays wring me out like a towel.
Whether it’s through my family, and the forgetting they all do, or through any number of jobs, tracing the photographs of long dead people back to the streets on which they’re frozen forever smiling, or following the written remnants of lives back, and forward, trying to secure their identity and cement it for the future, so complete strangers will know this is who this person was and this is what they did…through all these things I deal with the fading of things, the diminishing, but also the unexpected fragments that persist, and link each person to the next, figuratively but also literally. I love that so terribly much about what I do. That I get to gather what little remains and put it in an order that will let others know. This is who you were. This is what you did. The ellimist’s horizon….the slow accumulation of unconnected moments bright enough for us to remember dimly, brought together on occasion in a sudden blaze that makes the order of things suddenly, if not comprehensible, majestic…that is one byproduct of that plunge, backward and forward, chasing threads.
It’s what I look for.
And I am so moved when it is pursued. In whatever medium. In fiction, in music, in life.