I've watched Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's TedXEuston talk, from which this publication was taken, several times because, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I admI've watched Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's TedXEuston talk, from which this publication was taken, several times because, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I admire and adore her with every cell of my being.
I read this transcript with my morning coffee today. And I am again renewed, enlightened, hopeful, enchanted, and inspired. We should all read this. We should all be feminists.
I've actively avoided the 9/11 novel. I read a couple in the early years, I can't even tell you which they were (oh, if I thought about it, I'd come uI've actively avoided the 9/11 novel. I read a couple in the early years, I can't even tell you which they were (oh, if I thought about it, I'd come up with the titles, but that's not the point) but they pissed me off and so I vowed to make a wide berth around the ouevre. Ian McEwan's chilling and intense Saturday was an exception to my 9/11 Literature Moratorium, yet Saturday took place in London in 2003, tangentially related to the attacks in the United States two years before.
But the others I read tried too hard to intellectualize the horror, to make me think my way through the event. But none had the courage to take me into Ground Zero, into the physical nightmare, to drag me through the visceral aftermath.
Interestingly, Jess Walter published The Zero in 2006, the same year as Saturday, but I was living in New Zealand at the time, where no one had heard of Walter. The novel never made my radar. My book club in Christchurch read Saturday; had we known about Walter's, I know we would have read and loved it; it was that kind of a book club.
I had a raging bout of insomnia last night, so I'm kind of rambling. I feel a very particular kinship today to Brian Remy, the protagonist of The Zero; life is surreal and grainy, as if I've been dropped into the middle of movie and somehow I know my lines, even though I have no idea what happens next.
This book. It's brilliant. It's brilliant for the way it takes this horrific event and shoots the reader down a rabbit hole of the absurd, using an Alice in Wonderland approach to show how we, our collective American presence, took leave of our senses in the aftermath of our grief and anger.
Our Alice is policeman Brian Remy, who wakes up in his Manhattan apartment a few days after the attacks to find he has shot himself in the head. His aim was a bit off, because he's still alive. But he's not all there. Or at least his memory isn't. The narrative careers from one scene to the next, jumping over great gaps in Remy's memory. He eventually puts together that he's been assigned to a secret task force searching for those connected to the 9/11 attacks. His colleagues, a motley crew of cops and federal agents, embark upon a very dark comedy of errors and Remy realizes with horror that his blackouts may cover for violence he inflicts on suspects.
The gaps in Remy's memory eventually make for a hole-y plot and the subtext of a political thriller blows away like confetti in the wind, but hell. I had to stand back and admire Walter's audacity, originality, piercing sense of humor and the ache of horror and bewilderment that runs through the narrative, delivered by an author who arrived at Ground Zero five days after the attacks, as a journalist and ghost writer.
This is satire, but Jess Walter does what only Jess Walter can do: he imbues his characters with such humanity and tenderness that the arch meanness inherent in so much satire, the smug distance that I cannot abide, is mellowed under his touch until it all but disappears. He reserves his stings and barbs for systems and politics, for the shallowness of popular culture and the singular American need to commodify events and wrap them up with a bow of sparkly commercial optimism.
One of my favorite authors and this book, now ten years old, delivers yet another unforgettable read. ...more
I just can't believe it. That all you have to do is sleep with somebody and get caught and you never have to see your in-laws again. Ever. Pfffft! Go
I just can't believe it. That all you have to do is sleep with somebody and get caught and you never have to see your in-laws again. Ever. Pfffft! Gone. It's the nearest thing to magic I have yet found.
Don't be fooled by the sentimental title, or the romantic songs that lead off each chapter—these are sly and brittle ironies that ping emotional soft spots like a volley from a peashooter to the back of your neck. The Forgotten Waltz is pitch-perfect social satire that mirrors adultery with the reckless love affair of the Irish economy in the mid-late 2000s. Illicit sex, easy money—two sides of the same tarnished coin of lust. Sean and Gina pursue the former in a series of hotels around Dublin, while the Irish middle class strives for the latter in their gated communities and German sedans.
This is not the cozy Ireland of peat fires and Catholic guilt and rain on rose petals. This is boom-time Ireland, with all its flash and well-cut suits and Chardonnay and vacation homes and holidays in Spain. This is Ireland built by IT and pharmaceuticals and foreign investment. This is Ireland rising. This is Ireland falling. In The Forgotten Waltz lives are destroyed as fortunes and marriages are lost, as you would expect, but everyone survives and carries on, without really having learned a thing. As you would expect.
Narrating with pithy self-awareness, Gina embarks upon an affair with Sean, a married man with a little girl who is just slightly off-kilter, a bit fuzzy around the edges. Gina herself is married, to Conor, who is also fuzzy around the edges—solidly built, hairy, good-natured, a bit like a big hedgehog—not at all her type, yet somehow they marry and buy a condo. Her caustically funny voice is so natural. She is genuinely making an effort to get herself sorted, to atone, to be a person of compassion. At least she thinks she is. Gina is a woman in love, catastrophically; but she is not a bad person. She is outrageously, maddeningly human.
Years later, in the middle of a snowstorm that shuts down Dublin, Gina recounts how and where and when things went awry. But not why. You may find yourself scrabbling around the plot, looking for the reasons Gina and Sean risk their settled lives for the starched anonymity of hotel rooms and the pretense of nodding acquaintances when their social circles cross, which they frequently do (it is a small island, after all). Love doesn't seem to be the point. And of course it isn't. The point is the selfishness of the new Ireland and the new Irish within it. By the end, it's all turned to custard.
We listen to it . . . the rumour of money withering out of the walls and floors and out of the granite kitchen countertops, turning them back to bricks and rubbles and stone.
Anne Enright is one of the bravest writers I've read. Readers and publishers alike will take an author to task for characters whose behavior leaves our wells of empathy dry. And yet Enright writes without apology, pretense or false redemption. She isn't afraid to depart from cause and effect to acknowledge the universal truth that shit just happens. You fall for the right person at the wrong time. You take out a bank loan to support a lifestyle beyond your means because they are just throwing money at you, anyway.
The Forgotten Waltz is not without its moments of beauty and grace. Enright is so skilled, she knows how and when to thread in humanity, sometimes with self-deprecating humor, sometimes with visceral emotion. I love what she does and how she does it. I love that it drives readers crazy and occasionally, drives them away. With fierce and candid and gorgeous prose, Enright writes life's madness and makes us feel all the saner for it....more