OF THE GOD OF SMALL THINGS
Shouts out to Chelsea -- thanks for calling on Saturday it was so good talking to you.
There's a new link up in the Featured Links section on the directory page for those interested in that sort of thing.
Not too much to report lately. My back and my calves are killing me from my workout, Sunday. I took a technique boxing class from some sort of hell-creature. I was beat five minutes into the workout. Also, on the way home today traffic got snarled on the 405 due to the spectacle of four helicopters hovering like Sweat Bees over the Getty Center. Turns out there was some sort of crazy hit and run and then a chase around the Hilton Hotel, which lies in Getty's shadow. So, what I thought I would do with this entry is share with you parts of a book I'm reading, The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy.
I can't remember exactly where I heard of this book. Perhaps it was an Oprah thing, perhaps Maggy wrote about it. Anyway, it caught my eye on a desperate trip to Barnes & Noble for something new to read. It was in the "new paperbacks" section and for $13 I picked it up. It has a lovely cover. The cover is of a dark and sensual lilly pond with a few, delicate spots of pink flowers. Yeah, yeah, you can't judge a book by its cover but I really dig covers. I have the collected works of Kafka partly because I was into Kafka for awhile and partly because of its rad cover. The cover is glossy black with alternating matte stripes and the enlarged nib of a fountain pen in gold. It's damn cool.
I'm having a little trouble with The God of Small Things mostly because it is set in India and it speaks of an era in which I have almost no reference. Reading it reminds me of The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky. I read it in college and also, I think, at some point in High School. Basically, half of your brain power when reading it is trying to keep track of the people. Names in Russian, and also apparently in Indian, have certain default nicknames often entirely different than their proper names. People use these names interchangeably which often has to do with the position or class one person has in relation to others. For this same reason of unfamiliarity my whole frame of reference for sex is thrown off. The principle characters are a pair of fraternal twins, the boy's name is Estha and the girl's name is Rahel. It took me forever to figure out which was being referred to as he or she. I treat these hurdles like philosophy or Shakespeare if you push on through it usually begins to make sense.
I won't make too many judgements on plot or worth since I'm not yet finished. It is, however, intriguing and I might have to read it twice to fully grasp it. I do feel comfortable in calling Arundhati Roy an artist and a painter of words. I have marked some truly amazing passages as I have read. I share them with you:
This is the first paragraph of the book. I thought the imagery was so fine and so precious that I had to read it again, and then aloud.
May in Ayemenem is a hot, brooding month. The days are long and humid. The river shrinks and black crows gorge on bright mangoes in still, dustgreen trees. Red bananas ripen. Jackfruits burst. Dissolute bluebottles hum vacuously in the fruity air. Then they stun themselves against clear windowpanes and die, fatly baffled in the sun.
Can't you just hear it and smell it? I'd like to be able to write like this. I'd like to be able to write like this without embarrassment or remorse. The key, I believe, is to watch. You have to watch and think, think, think about what you're really looking at and how you really feel.
This bit is from Chapter 2, "Pappachi's Moth," and on page 43 (in my book). I like this first for the memory and second for the daring. This is the mother of the twins reflecting on her wedding day and the man that she married who she eventually divorced:
When she looked at herself in her wedding photographs, Ammu felt the woman that looked back at her was someone else. A foolish jeweled bride. Her silk sunset-colored sari shot with gold. Rings on every finger. White dots of sandalwood paste over her arched eyebrows. Looking at herself like this, Ammu's soft mouth would twist into a small, bitter smile at the memory not of the wedding itself so much as the fact that she had permitted herself to be so painstakingly decorated before being led to the gallows. It seemed so absurd. So futile.
Youch! I wonder if my strong reaction has to do with my own impending wedding day. I don't think it does although I am a bit frustrated by some of the excessive pomp. And, you're only firewood if you get burned and, as it turns out, Ammu really got burned.
This part is deep into the book in Chapter 12, "Kochu Thomban," page 218. Do you ever read things or hear things that as soon as you hear them you know they are the truth as it is everyday? Yet, it is the explicit telling of these truths that wakes you up to the reality of them. Strange human nature.
It didn't matter that the story had begun, because kathakali discovered long ago that the secret of the Great Stories is that they have no secrets. The Great Stories are the ones you have heard and want to hear again. The ones you can enter anywhere and inhabit comfortably. They don't deceive you with thrills and trick endings. They don't surprise you with the unforeseen. They are as familiar as the house you live in. Or the smell of your lover's skin. You know how they end, yet you listen as though you don't. In the way that although you know that one day you will die, you live as though you won't. In the Great Stories you know who lives, who dies, who finds love, who doesn't. And yet you want to know again.
The essential for me is in this sentence, "In the way that although you know that one day you will die, you live as though you won't." That thought explains away the human foible of not making the most of what we have while we have it. Why do we do this? What makes us pretend that death doesn't exist? I know of people who claim that they embrace death but how can they...truly? It seems impossible. I want it to be impossible. How does one live for everyday anyway? It sounds so exhausting. And, for that reason, perhaps we do need to live life as though it will never end. Everlasting life?
Who knows. If you've read this drop me a line with your thoughts.
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