16-17 June 2012
The timer has been set for twenty minutes. That’s how long I have to write. When the twenty minutes are up, I will go into the bedroom and play the first episode of Season 6 of Lewis, which Kathleen and I are dying to see. Me especially; Kathleen is simply dying. She was up until four, revising a document, on Thursday morning, and then she stayed up till all hours last night reading Bring Up the Bodies, the sequel to Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall.
There has been so much on my mind today that I won’t begin to get it down; this is the tragedy of Saturdays, when many things occur to me while I tidy the apartment. (Tidying your home at a regular time is perhaps the most effective psychotherapy I’ve experienced.) For example: it occurred to me that the fact that I couldn’t put down a single one of Elizabeth Taylor’s novels, going straight from the one to the next until there simply weren’t any more, is not really very valuable as a statement of literary criticism. What it means is that the Time Was Right. Well, glory be for that, but I’ll have to make the case for her fiction on other grounds.
Making dinner, I watched Sid Caesar skits. Are they funny to me because I remember when they were new? They’re actually much funnier now than they were when I first saw them again, about ten years ago. I certainly didn’t understand them when I saw them as a kid, which wasn’t when they were new; I was too little. But to say (in lieu of “Sure, I’ll do that if you like”) “I would be most hermetically sealed to do so” or “I would be hydraulically lifted to do so” is funnier now than it ever was. Not to mention that Caesar and the writers understood the relationship between jazz and drugs all the better for, being writers, not being allowed to do drugs.
The Remicade is like a can of Popeye’s spinach. It doesn’t act quite so quickly, but all day, and especially into the evening, I’ve felt this wonderful restoration of self: I’m me again! As though I’d been a deflated balloon (not a bad image). There’s nothing in the least bit extraordinary about the way I feel, nothing keen or cool. I just feel good to be alive and “normal.” For the first time in about ten days. Which might raise existential questions, but I’m in my ninth year of Remicade infusions: this is an old story.
Seven minutes. I didn’t mean to talk about Remicade at all. Reading Diana Athill, thinking about Elizabeth Taylor. (Two trains that seem not to have crossed, although they must have done.) Shopping at PriceWise (the discount non-pharmaceutical “drugstore”) for Basis soap, Gristedes for fundamentals (dark chocolate M&Ms for Kathleen, bananas for me, and a small bottle of Clorox for the sink), and Fairway for dinner, more precisely the halo of dinner: I reheated last week’s bolognese. D’you know what? It tasted better when it was fresh. These meat sauces are often said to be better as leftovers, but in the case of my ragù, I don’t think so. Every Italian would agree.
Three minutes. One of my dearest friends thought that Lewis would be a flop. She’d never liked Kevin Whately’s character, and couldn’t understand anyone’s putting up with a detective who wasn’t an Oxford man. I don’t believe that she’d seen the show; she wasn’t aware of the magic of Laurence Fox’s character’s Cambridge theology background. I must ask her, when she gets back from her summer trip to perfidious Albion, if she’s seen the show yet. The sixth season has just come out on DVD (in Britain), and it won’t be long before there are as many Lewises as there are Morses. Speaking of Morse, I also have in my quiver a show called Endeavor. And you were wondering what Morse’s first name was.
Time. Aggravation Boulevard! Hadn’t seen it since The Artist! I was right! But no: Time.
There is only one difficulty about writing on weekends: I’d much rather be in a room, reading, with Kathleen, engaged in our sport of mutual interruption (the aim of which is to be informative without being irritating — pretty tricky for two attentive readers). I’ve been enjoying Stet no one, and wondering why it took me so long to climb aboard the Diana Athill bus for a very jolly ride. Other than that, all of a sudden, I don’t know what I’m reading.
This is partly because I put a lot of books away yesterday, shelving my TBR pile instead of stacking it. I’m reading two related books about empire and its consequences, Kwasi Kwarteng’s Ghosts of Empire and John Barr’s A Line in the Sand. While I wouldn’t say that I’m stalled in the middle of either, that’s only because I have forced myself to read chapters here and there. I am not very interested, at the moment, in distant places. And I do mean at the moment. It won’t last.
My disorientation about reading matter is also attributable to the aftermath of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, which I finished yesterday morning after breakfast in a blaze of focus. It’s a very successful page-turner — ever more exciting as it approaches its brilliantly unstable conclusion (all I could think of was that Wallenda boy falling off his rope but surviving intact — inconceivable in real life). The first half of Gone Girl is too long; the author, who certainly knows her Jennifer Egan (as becomes instantly apparent in the opening page of the book’s second part), ought to work a little harder at compression and elision. In the long term, it’s a better idea to write for readers than otherwise, and to assume that readers bring a great deal of useful autofill to the reading process. It’s the people who don’t read who want confirmation of their surmises, and, in the long run, they have nothing to do with literary success. (Although of course they’re the ones who sell best-sellers, by recommending the kind of thing that they like to their friends.) Gone Girl could stand a bit of boiling down.
I recommend the book highly, though, and not only as a marvel of suspense, which it certainly is. I found in the novel’s diptych of narratives a very timely portrait, not so much of a bad marriage, as of a vainglorious romanticism. There is a self-consciousness about the relationship between Nick and Amy that is too artisanal to be sustained. The healthy one of the two of them gives up, and flails in the failure of love (this is established right away), while the other one contemplates Frankenmarriage. Hipsters everywhere ought to know this story, for their own safety and protection! I ope that I haven’t said to much (except that Sandra Bullock would win an Oscar).
Maureen Dowd asks if “with formerly hallowed institutions and icons sinking into a moral dystopia all around us, has our sense of right and wrong grown more malleable?” The question is occasioned by Mike McQueary’s testimony in the Jerry Sandusky trial. How could Mr McQueary not have known, Ms Dowd asks, the right thing to do when he saw his colleague abusing a boy in the showers?
He said he felt too “shocked, flustered, frantic” to do anything, adding defensively: “It’s been well publicized that I didn’t stop it. I physically did not remove the young boy from the shower or punch Jerry out.”
He told Paterno the next morning and went along with the mild reining in of Sandusky, who continued his deviant ways.
Put on administrative leave, McQueary has filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the school. (He was promoted to receivers coach and recruiting coordinator three years after the incident.) “Frankly,” he said, “I don’t think I did anything wrong to lose that job.”
Dowd thinks that things are getting worse, but I take Mr McQueary’s indignation about losing his job as a sign that things are getting better, not worse. I don’t understand why Maureen Dowd, of all people (given her concern about priestly pedophilia), hasn’t learned that it is only recently that individual men and women — victims, for the most part — have refused to go along with the patriarchal toleration of coercive sexual deviance. It is not permissible for two men to love one another, but it’s all right for a powerful man to gratify his lust in any way that he can. We only now live in a world that urges victims not to accept the humiliation that accompanies involuntary sexual activity of any kind. I hope that we’ll arrive sooner rather than later at a stage in which mutual love validates every kind of sexuality.
Those hallowed institutions and icons were always pretty hollow. We’ve needed new ones for a long time, but we’re not going to get them by trying to reform the old ones.