05 October 2012

Library Limelights 14

Hey-hey! Post no. 50 on this site. A sort of landmark.

Jonathan Lewis. Into Darkness. London: Arrow/Random House, 2011.
Here's an offbeat story on the slim side but the well-drawn funky characters make up for it. First you must adapt to the unique jargon and slang of a tightly knit police investigation unit. Hunky detective Ned is obsessed with reenacting a murder scenario. Dog handler Kate is obsessed with a labradoodle. The medical examiner's obsession with speaking Latin is hilarious. Along the way we are educated about guide dogs and the world of the blind. More, please.

Shalom Auslander. Hope: A Tragedy. New York: Riverhead Books/Penguin, 2012.
OMG, what to make of this brilliant farce. The protagonist is so hilariously neurotic there are laugh-out-loud moments. The author (is that his real name?) boldly goes where most Jewish novelists would not dare. On the other hand, you have to buy in to the basic premise that rears its strange head early on. Can't tell you what it is – FAILED SPOILER ALERT – that's where I bogged down at first, wishing the hapless Solomon Kugel had stuck to his every day life just managing his seriously bonkers mother with superhuman patience. I picked it up again later in preference to slogging through a doleful recounting of a massacre in the Sahara in 1881 (Sands of Death). Happily, the story became even more lunatic; Solomon's obsession with last words is a recurrent theme. Definitely not for the politically correct reader.

(Only a few) choice gems from Solomon's head:
“Kugel didn't like tall people, and these tall people were tanned, which made it even worse, the kind of tan that only comes from very intentional tanning; it wasn't that they had been out cultivating their garden, or even engaging in some mindless outdoor sport; no, these two had set out together, with single-minded determination, to become tan. Let's become tan, they had agreed, and after much struggle and sacrifice and aloe, they had at last achieved their goal.
Tall people appeared to have it easy; that was what Kugel found so appalling. Like things just went their way. Let's go buy a house! Let's get expensive diving watches! Why not, we're tall! What could go wrong? The woman wasn't quite as tall as the man, but she was marrying into his tallness, hoping for a piece of that ever-perfect tall pie, and for that, Kugel hated her even more than he did the man.” (90-91)

“Kugel thought specifically about the experience of dying. He thought about the pain, about the fear. Most of all, he thought about what he would say at the final moment; his ultima verba; his last words. They should be wise, he decided, which is not to say morose or obtuse; simply that they should mean something, amount to something. They should reveal, illuminate. He didn't want to be caught by surprise, speechless, gasping, not knowing at the very last moment what to say.” (5)

“Said one man on the gallows when asked if he had any last words: Let 'er rip! Said another as the priest pressed him to commend his soul to God: I'll just tell him when I see him.
Voltaire, on his deathbed, was asked to repudiate the devil. Is this, Voltaire, asked, a time to be making enemies?” (76)

“Gas is running low, said Amelia Earhart in her last radio communication. Of course those were just the last words she said to anyone else—her actual last word, as the plane went down, might just have been Fuuuuuuck. ... Nobody is going to admit that fuuuuuuck was someone's last word, even if it is the most appropriate word of all. It's possible she didn't die going down, of course; she might have landed safely on an island, thanked God, and then discovered the island was deserted and had no food sources. Last words: Fuck, now what?” (134)
“An Indian chief named Iaspwo Muksiks Crowfoot said this on his deathbed: A little while and I'll be gone from among you. Whither I cannot tell. From nowhere we come, into nowhere we go. What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the light. It is the breath of the buffalo in the wintertime. It is as the little shadow that runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.
That seemed a lot to cover in a last moment. Kugel imagined he would manage to choke out the first few words—A little whi...—and drop dead before he could finish the rest. A little why, [wife] Bree would wonder. What did he mean by that? Remember your grandfather's last words, Jonah would tell his children: Life is nothing more than a little why.” (216)

“Kugel pitied the dying, but he envied the dead. Whenever he looked at photos—of JFK, of Elvis, of Smiling Man—he thought, Well, at least you got it over with. At least you can cross that off your list. He imagined the scene at the gates of heaven to be not unlike that at the finish line of a long and grueling marathon: everyone high-fiving, hugging, collapsing, elated that it's over, yes, it's finally over, pouring cups of water over one another's heads and saying Holy shit, dude, that was fucking brutal. I am never doing that again.” (260)

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