Thursday, July 8, 2010

Passages to Plage

Wally Lamb, you rock my world.


When you're the sane brother of a schizophrenic identical twin, the tricky thing about saving yourself is the blood it leaves on your hands--the little inconvenience of the look-alike corpse at your feet. And if you're into both survival of the fittest and being your brother's keeper--if you've promised your dying mother--then say so long to sleep and hello to the middle of the night. Grab a book or a beer. Get used to Letterman's gap-toothed smile of the absurd, or the view of the bedroom ceiling, or the indifference of random selection. Take it from a godless insomniac. Take it from the uncrazy twin--the guy who beat the biochemical rap.

Stephanie Kallos, you're unafraid as well.


There's a special kind of pretending that goes on in small towns. It involves neither willful ignorance nor blindness. It is the opposite of gossip: a pretense of not-knowing.

This pretending is what allows small-town people to continue living in such close proximity. How else could they mingle on a daily basis with the sinners among them? Without the practice of not-knowing, it wouldn't be possible. Were a stranger to enter the societal cocoon of a not-knowing town such as [insert your small town here if you have one] and start asking questions like "Shouldn't he be in jail?" or "Did they ever get married?" or "Has she put on some weight?" the answers will come back. I can't say, You're asking the wrong person, You make a good point, or That's a very interesting observation.

This kind of forgetting can occur within an individual as well. After all, a single life might come to contain many identities, a whole community of selves one has inhabited over the course of, say, seventy-five years. In order for all those selves to cohabitant, one must occasionally direct the power of not-knowing inwardly; for example, should one self ask, When exactly did I start sleeping with my best friend's husband? another self could answer with conscionable ease and genuine wonderment, Why, after she gave me permission to do so, of course! For years, Alvina Closs has managed internal conversations like this with perfect poise.

But now she is the last surviving member…

What's the point? has been the dominant conversational question among the town of selves that constitute Alvina Closs…

It is difficult, so difficult for the aggrieved to open themselves to the complexity of feeling that follows a loss--and many cannot. There is a commonly held misconception that we must only speak well of the dead, encountering them in our hearts and minds with abiding love and unperturbed kindness, fabricating a revisionist view of personal history that excludes pain, suffering, and sin.

And yet grief cannot proceed and healing cannot occur without a willingness to speak truthful of the dead and of our relationship with them. Expressing the full range of feelings toward those who've abandoned us has a scouring effect--and a strengthening one, too; it allows us to stand with firms on the terra incognito of a vastly reconfigured future--possibly a long one. "Till death do us part" is a terrible vow to force upon a married couple. Death doesn't end a thing. What was imperfect in life will remain imperfect after death, whatever was untended cannot be repaired, unuttered words will echo like a curse, unsaid words will become a cancer, and yet this must all be acknowledged and spoken of, in one's own heart at least, if nowhere else.

(New Lamb book The Hour I First Believed looks startling too.)

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