Let The Great World Spin

Life as high wire act: relationships a problem of tension, control, focus, flexibility in the face of variability. Is it possible to connect with another in a true and meaningful way? Or is life more a performance art, a continuous series of dramatic gestures, a dress rehearsal for an opening night which never arrives?

Extravagant acts of courage and strength pull us out of the mundane and banal of every day life. But is every day life really mundane or banal? Is not every step, every action, every breath an act of bravery? An extravagant gesture worth attention? Is not every interaction with another precious and thrumming with potential beauty?

A really good novel, this–for fans of DeLillo or Franzen or Toibin. Complex and meaty but not difficult. Lovely prose, interesting characters, a nice reconstruction of a sort of Indra’s Net of interrelated beings and situations. The characters are not always able to see the causes and effects and connections, wrapped up as they are in their own webs:

“Experience is never limited, and it is never complete; it is an immense sensibility, a kind of huge spider-web of the finest silken threads suspended in the chamber of consciousness, and catching every airborne particle in its tissue. It is the very atmosphere of the mind. ” Henry James, The Art of Fiction

Struggling to get back into the discipline of daily blogging, BTW. Excuse the unfleshed-out jottings, but I must restart somewhere.

Today

What I saw today:

I saw the younger brother of one of my very best friends eulogize his older brother, dead suddenly at age 44.

I saw another of my very best friends eulogize this same friend.

I saw this friend’s 15-year-old son eulogize him.

I saw this friend’s wife of 18 years eulogize him.

I saw this friend’s 3-year-old daughter, the youngest of six, dancing in the aisle of the church during a song about angels.

I saw intense love and bravery in the face of disaster.

I saw that joy and beauty and grief are by no means incompatible.

Melbourne Beach

The town is empty. Most of the homes are owned by Northerners who winter here. We have the beach to ourselves, a lovely house with a salt-water pool. The enrippled sun creates a luminous net of golden lines on its bottom. I could float around watching that all day.

I felt my soul stitching itself back together today. I swam, I watched tiny lizards dart comically after fat lazy beetles. I got up close and personal with a heron.

I journaled, read, and played guitar during a gorgeous thunder storm. I took an epic nap. Six more days here! I’ll be all Zenned up by the time we roll back to Bmore….

Heat and Dust

For many years I admired Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s screenwriting prowess–several of her scripts for Merchant Ivory became some of my very favorite films. I found out shortly after she passed away that she lived not only in the same building as my sister and brother-in-law in NYC, but also on the same floor. Mrs. Jhabvala was a fan of their little dog Chalupa, and they had no idea who she was until they saw a linked obit on my Facebook page!

Heat and Dust is the first of her fiction I’ve read, and I highly recommend it.

The novel is set in India and is largely focused on the experience of India and Indians through the eyes of British colonialists. There are thematic similarities with E.M. Forester, but also a bit of Conrad or Graham Green in there as well. The novel is short and breezy but feels larger. The prose is tightly controlled and reminiscent of Nadine Gordimer.

I note that the most lush scenes all involve cemetery settings or death. Most of the “civilized” settings are moribund, dusty, derelict. The English are cut off from sensation and emotion–they busily build and fuss like worker bees or ants, never feeling the hot pulse of life. The Indians who become Anglicized wilt. The English who “go native” become sick and moribund. Everyone struggles to find an oasis, a respite, a flourishing patch of Earth in an oppressive landscape. Mores and traditions are challenged and break down. More than the climate becomes hot and steamy. The intertwined and interrelated cultures are sunbaked and confused but aim for a higher spiritual truth, as aloof, distant, and full of mysterious promise as the icy peaks of the Himalayas.

Small Victories

Last year I taught an advanced reading class to seventh graders. We read Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. The kids tackled the Turn-of-the-Screwish aspects of The Haunting…how much was the house haunting Eleanor? How much was she haunting it?

This year I took several of those same kids to Center Stage to see Twelfth Night. At intermission two of the girls rushed up to me. “That lady sang ‘journey’s end in lovers meeting,’ just like Eleanor!” I asked them to watch for more connections in the rest of the play. I can’t wait to see what they come up with. The plot of Jackson’s novel does rather follow a marriage plot, with the house as a kind of Malvolio who wins.

The play was really well-done. I’ve not seen such good Shakespeare at Center Stage in ages. I recommend you see it soon!

DSK

I adore Harper’s Magazine, and read it devoutly, and have done so for nearly two decades.

Often, however, if the story–the fiction story–is too long, I’ll skip that. I read lots of periodicals, and the pressure to keep up is enormous. I make this sacrifice occasionally in order to maintain order in my periodicals universe.

I nearly skipped Ken Kalfus’s “Coup de Foudre” this month because it’s REALLY F-ING LONG. But I’m so glad I didn’t. It’s a really remarkable fictionalization of the downfall of Dominique Strauss-Kahn. I find it remarkable because the story is fully aware that DSK was likely set up by an intelligence sting, while at the same time not excusing the behavior that led French intelligence to know exactly how to get at his ass.

So DSK is a member of the 1%, a power player who thinks of himself as having sympathy for the deprived, the downtrodden, the abused, and yet he is perfectly capable of colonizing by force a defenseless African refugee in a hotel room. He’s an exceptionally competent bureaucrat, a gifted politician, a master at the sort of structural analyses necessary to handle complex international navigations during crises, someone who can cobble together solutions to collapses and economic insecurity in a Europe heading toward dissolution or Utopia depending on your POV. But he can use someone for his pleasure. He is rich. He is powerful. He is respected. And she is not.

DSK befell the same fate as Clinton–remember how Liinda Tripp coached Lewinsky through that whole “affair”?–he was outfoxed by more sophisticated players who saw his weakness for Eyes Wide Shut-style shenanigans.

The story is great, and if you’re not a subscriber you should become one, or purchase it at your local bookstore. Wait, ha ha! Are there such things?