By now my husband knows better than to prod me as I prowl the bookshelves restlessly. Picking a next book, after finishing a good one, is frustrating.
I read 1/4 of Love May Fail, because I got it for free, but put it down because I cannot handle people treating their parents carelessly just now. I reread the first three chapters of Little, Big, and checked my records to ensure that it had indeed been some years–seven–since I had last read it, but it seemed like squandering a life ring to me: I am not in need, now, of the comfort that book has to give, so it is better for me to save a reread for later, when I am in need.
Trying to steer myself away from reading another book by the same author–I don’t like to wear out a style, a way of being spoken to; I like the rush of warmth and recognition you get from spacing them out–I tried Everything In This Country Must, but put it back based on its publication date. 1999–too early to be told what this country must, for that country is gone. I mean that. Sometimes I can stomach the dissonance between the world they thought we’d make and the world we made–sometimes I can forgive the artists I love for not knowing, not providing advice for the black hole they failed to see–but not always. Possibly that is why I loved The Translator so much? Published in 2002, he couldn’t have finished it before 9/11, and that colors his prose, or could have. There is a line in there about the final logic of that century not having been reached. The place all points seemed destined to end being pushed off, pushed back, seemingly forever. And I flipped to the title page and checked the date of publication and didn’t feel cheated. With that date I can allow myself to believe he said that darkly, knowingly. And that also if they recovered from that, did not let it darken the rest of their lives, maybe we could recover from this, and not shudder in its shadow.
(An aside: Will it take forty years to write about that well? Born in 1942, he would have been of an age with Kit for the Cuban Missile Crisis. The description of the fear that twanged in everyone as they tried to go about their daily business–pouring coffee, taking notes, walking from building to building, looking up with dread, everything seeming more beautiful because it might end; no, it will end, because that is what everyone told you–that was furiously, shout-out-loud familiar. Does it take that long to be able to do that? Given the disease that runs in my family, I don’t know that I have that long. As my father so blithely informed me, if I don’t start submitting myself for experimental procedures by 40, I’m fucked.)
Anyway that ruled out This Side of Brightness, too. I grabbed hopefully at Dancer–2003–but flung it back when I saw it took place in the Soviet Union. Too soon, after The Translator. Better not to let impressions blend; to let them curl tight on themselves like cats keeping warm, separate and distinct. I slunk back to Crowley’s end of the alphabet, then, reluctantly, wanting something more recent of his, rooted in a world more recognizable than those heralded by SF prize winnings. There is a coterie of authors I circle back between, for the kind of knowledge too intimate for people you know to give you. Colum McCann, David Mitchell, John Crowley (I think often back to Little, Big, though there are only the two of his now I’ve read), and maybe also–I have not returned enough to know–Tim Winton and Italo Calvino and Mark Helprin. It’s different than reading for beauty of description, the flair of their words. They have that, but it’s a tool to get at something even more necessary. That is why I return to these particular people. That is why Little, Big is a lifeline in reserve. But it’s also why I hesitate to squander more of their unread books at an inopportune time. As my attempt at Love May Fail proved, though, I can’t just turn straight over to flippancy and have that be okay either. Not after a book like The Translator.
So I went on and risked it and checked out Love & Sleep anyway. Though in the process I stumbled onto a collection of poems by someone I actually knew, which revealed him to be exactly as fragile as I thought he’d be, beneath that flashy exterior. He is like my husband’s childhood best friend–you can see the depths there, the currents, but he will not let you in, because the window is closed, and has been for years. You had to get in while the getting was good, when he was young and still open, because now you are too new an acquaintance, and will get only the flashy smile, the self-confident grin, the hyuckity hyuck jokes. It’s like someone put a padlocked grate over a well, and you’re up there banging hopelessly on it with a bucket that will never go down. I hate it when that happens, and it happens more and more often, as my cohort ages. (It is also, stupidly, affected by one’s perceived sexual orientation. When people think you could not love them they will tell you so much. Then they close up like narcissistic clams when they think you might pose a “risk.” As if honesty were an aphrodisiac. It’s not. It’s just honesty, damn you.)
I tried, too, to return to Quicksilver, but could not. The misery of science, the dog breathing hideously through its dissected organs, oxygen forced into its lungs through a tube though it tried so hard to die…I couldn’t. I was raised to understand and be grateful for what science gives us, and I am. But that…I couldn’t. So I stopped.