Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Books don't get me teary-eyed, but...

... "The Corrections," which won Jonathan Franzen the National Book Award, is a surprisingly sad story, and it is a bastard that way, because for most of its bulk, it's pretty funny and amusing and occasionally grandly entertaining. And then--this is the part where I should put a spoiler warning--it stops pretending it's a funny and amusing story, and in a few pages, gets to the heart of the matter, and that heart is a badly damaged, terribly sad one. It provides, as far as my relatively short reach of literature is concerned, the most accurate depiction of how it feels, as clichés go, to be trapped in another body. Only, in this case, the body belongs to the prisoner, who is with worsening Parkinson's Disease, and let's call you a hypocrite this instant if you think you would never, not one second, think this way if you were in Alfred Lambert's shoes.

          Like a wife who had died or a house that had burned, the clarity to think and the power to act were still vivid in his memory. Through a window that gave onto the next world, he could still see the clarity and see the power, just out of reach, beyond the window's thermal panes. He could see the desired outcomes, the drowning at sea, the shotgun blast, the plunge from a height, so near to him still that he refused to believe he'd lost the opportunity to avail himself of their relief.
          He wept at the injustice of his sentence. "For God's sake, Chip," he said loudly, because he sensed that this might be his last chance to liberate himself before he lost all contact with that clarity and power and it was therefore crucial that Chip understand exactly what he wanted. "I'm asking for your help! You've got to get me out of this! You have to put an end to it!
          Even red-eyed, even tear-streaked, Chip's face was full of power and clarity. Here was a son whom he could trust to understand him as he understood himself; and so Chip's answer, when it came, was absolute. Chip's answer told him that this was where the story ended. It ended with Chip shaking his head, it ended with him saying: "I can't, Dad. I can't."

And this earlier passage, which all husbands and fathers should read, lest they forget that they don't have all the time in the world. And that it's okay, more so when your children happen to be all grown up already, to be more honest with your feelings; that there is no shame in, and nothing un-masculine about, being more forward and verbal with your thoughts.

          "Dad, Dad, Dad. What's wrong?"
          Alfred looked up at his son and into his eyes. He opened his mouth, but the only word he could produce was "I--"
          I have made mistakes--
          I am alone--
          I am wet--
          I want to die--
          I am sorry--
          I did my best--
          I love my children--
          I need your help--
          I want to die--
          "I can't be here," he said. 

Finally, "The Corrections" allows a flicker of redemption for the long-suffering wife, Enid Lambert (I heard June Squibb in the part up to the end), and it's a page-long paragraph I'd rather not type, so if you haven't, do yourself a favor and read this book.

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