Books, Documentaries, Reviews: May 17, 2015
A Little Life
I finished it. All 720 pages of it.
I was sad to see it end.
But glad, too, for the story had finished appropriately.
It’s a book to savor. It’s a hard read though–because this astonishing writer is uncompromising with her story. People get hurt when they are young some times, and the hurt cannot be cured and causes life-long beliefs and practices that cannot be changed. We Americans have such a belief that anything that goes wrong can, magically, be fixed technically or with love–and more often than not, they can’t. The darkness of this novel, though, is suffused with the glow and warmth of love and, also, with bad behavior that stems from love fueled by ego and fear. It’s also an amazing love story that spans over thirty years–some of them troubled, some of them fulfilling.
This “little life” impacts a bigger circle than realized, as may be true for many of us. Who knows at the time?
The quotes below only show the writer’s ability to…write. You can trust that the story she weaves has as much complexity and depth.
* * *
The other aspect of those weekday-evening trips he loved was the light itself, how it filled the train like something living as the cars rattled across the bridge, how it washed the weariness from his seatmates’ faces and revealed them as they were when they first came to the country, when they were young and America seemed conquerable. He’d watch that kind light suffuse the car like syrup, watch hit smudge furrows from foreheads, slick gray hairs into gold, gentle the aggressive shine from cheap fabrics into something lustrous and fine. And then the sun would drift, the car rattling uncaringly away fro it, and the world would return to its normal sad shapes and colors, the people to their normal sad state, a shift as cruel and abrupt as if it had been made by a sorcerer’s wand (26)
* * *
Later, he would look back on this episode as a sort of fulcrum, the hinge between a relationship that was one thing and then became something else: his friendship with JB, of course, but also his friendship with Willem. There had been periods in his twenties when he would look at his friends and feel such a pure, deep contentment that he would wish the world around them would simply cease, that none of them would have to move from that moment, when everything was in equilibrium and his affection for them was perfect. But, of course, that was never to be: a beat later, and everything shifted, and the moment quietly vanished (176).
* * *
“The axiom of the empty set is the axiom of zero. It states that there must be a concept of nothingness, that there must be the concept of zero: zero value, zero items. Math assumes there’s a concept of nothingness, but is it proven? No. But it must exist.
“And if we are being philosophical–which we today are–we can say that life itself is the axiom of the empty set. It begins in zero and ends in zero. We know that both states exist, but we will not be conscious of either experience: they are states that are necessary parts of life, even as they cannot be experienced as life. We assume the concept of nothingness, but we cannot prove it. But it must exist. So I prefer to think that Walter has not died bukt has instead proven for himself the axiom of the empty set, that he has proven the concept of zero. I know nothing else would have made him happier. An elegant mind wants elegant endings, and Walter had the most elegant mind. So I wish him goodbye; I w ish him the answer to the axiom he so loved” (288).