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329 pages, Hardcover
First published February 18, 2020
Better to imagine his friends happy than to see their unhappiness up close. And unhappy they certainly would be – that has been the lesson this weekend, hasn’t it? The misery of other people, the persistence of unhappiness, is perhaps all that connects them. Only the prospect of greater unhappiness keeps them within the circumscribed world of graduate school.
And there is the other thing – the shadow pain, he calls it, because he cannot say its real name. Because to say its real name would be to cause trouble, to make waves. To draw attention to it, as though it weren’t in everything already….. The most unfair part of it, Wallace thinks, is that when you tell white people that something is racist, they hold it up to the light and try to discern if you are telling the truth. As if they can tell by the grain if something is racist or not, and they always trust their own judgement. It’s unfair because white people have a vested interest in underestimating racism, its amount, its intensity, its shape, its effects. They are the fox in the henhouse.
There will always be this moment. There will always be good white people who love him and want the best for him but who are more afraid of other white people than of letting him down. It is easier for them to let it happen and to triage the wound later than to introduce an element of the unknown into the situation. No matter how good they are, no matter how loving, they will always be complicit, a danger, a wound waiting to happen.
[this] is why he does not trust memory. Memory sifts. Memory lifts. Memory makes due with what it is given. Memory is not about facts. Memory is an inconsistent measurement of the pain in one’s life.
He smiled because he was not sure how to meet someone’s sympathy for him. It always seemed to him that when people were sad for you, they were sad for themselves, as if your misfortune were just an excuse for them to feel what it was they wanted to feel. Sympathy was a kind of ventriloquism .... ‘Thank you,’ he said, because what else did one say when caught in the confines of someone else’s sympathy?
Cruelty, Wallace thinks, is really just the conduit of pain. It conveys pain from one place to another – from the place of highest concentration to the place of lowest concentration, in the same way heat flows. It is a delivery system, as in the way that certain viruses convey illness, disease, irreparable harm. They’re all infected with pain, hurting each other.
… pressure, the awful pressure of having to hold on to time for oneself. This is perhaps why people get together in the first place. The sharing of time. The sharing of the responsibility of anchoring oneself in the world. Life is less terrible when you can just rest for a moment, put everything down and wait without having to worry about being washed away. People take each other’s hands and they hold on as tight as they can, they hold on to each other and to themselves, and when they let go, they can because they know that the other person will not.
This too is real life, he thinks. Not merely the accumulation of tasks, thinks to be done and sorted, but also the bumping up against other lives, everyone in the world insignificant when taken and observed together.
Why would you do that? I mean, the prospects for…black people, you know?When someone sabotages his work on nematodes, erasing countless days of work, it is somehow turned into the victimization of walking cretin Dana. A younger addition to their program from Portland or Seattle. Their supervisor, Simone, immediately accepts Dana’s accusations of misogyny when the bovine had the audacity to utter that gay men were monopolizing oppression. May I please have a crumb of oppression? This bitch was so far up her ass she had the audacity to say that white women were the new n* (with a hard R) and f*.
Emma and Wallace had become friends by virtue of the fact that neither of them was a white man in their program.She shows a sense of ownership of his space and experiences going even as far as inadvertently stealing his first kiss because he was “grieving”. When she finds out that his father passed away a fortnight before the events in the book, she is saddened by the news even when Wallace is not- owing to the trauma he experienced when he was younger.
He smiled because he was not sure how to meet someone’s sympathy for him. It always seemed to him that when people were sad for you, they were sad for themselves, as if your misfortune were just an excuse for them to feel what it was they wanted to feel. Sympathy was a kind of ventriloquism.And later when Emma blurts the news to the rest of their friend group they gape at him wondering why he doesn’t have an acceptable display of grief
This is why he keeps the truth to himself, because other people don’t know what to do with your shit…Miller is a tall boy with accessible beauty that enters an entanglement with Wallace. He hadn’t even realised Miller was interested in him, owing to Wallace’s capacity for self-absorption as evidenced when he was stunned to find out that his best friend in the lab, Brigit, a Chinese-American student, also experienced racism. Miller’s relationship with Wallace is odd as Miller frequently insists he isn’t gay but shows a remarkable affinity for kissing Wallace. He also has a history with violence where he is the one who hurt someone else
I went around mad because nobody out there wanted me. Nothing I wanted wanted me back.
The most unfair part of it, Wallace thinks, is that when you tell white people that something is racist, they hold it up to the light and try to discern if you are telling the truth.This has been evidenced in real time following the Oprah and Meghan Markle interview. With a whole board of white editors declaring how they have never seen any racism so surely Meghan must be lying. Taylor has had his work compared to James Baldwin and it’s observations like these that perhaps warrant the contrast.
But sometimes I’d like to live in it— in the real world, I mean. I’d like to be out there with a real job, a real life.When his friend, Cole, is afraid to confront Vincent on possible infidelity, Wallace observes
Of course Vincent is afraid to lose Vincent… What Cole wants from life is, above all else, that matters be settled before they are even raised, that everything fall into place.Point me to any millennial who doesn’t want this and I will tell you that’s an alien come to observe earth and hasn’t fully mastered its nuances.
…Vincent… is a ward, an inoculation against the uncertainty of the future.As someone who was in a relationship with the same person for ten years I appreciated the comfort that came with being “settled”.
“Is it into this culture that he is to emerge? Into the narrow, dark water of real life?”
“People can be unpredictable in their cruelty.”
“Perhaps friendship is really nothing but controlled cruelty. Maybe that’s all they’re doing, lacerating each other and expecting kindness back.”
“Affection always feels this way for him, like an undue burden, like putting weight and expectation onto someone else. As if affection were a kind of cruelty too.”
“He misses, maybe, also, other things, the weight of unnamed feelings moving through him. And those feelings were transmuted into something cruel and mean.
There was an economy to it, even when you couldn’t see it at first, a shadow calculation running underneath all their lives.”
“This is perhaps why people get together in the first place. The sharing of time. The sharing of the responsibility of anchoring oneself in the world. Life is less terrible when you can just rest for a moment, put everything down and wait without having to worry about being washed away.”
“He had considered himself a Midwesterner at heart, that being in the South and being gay were incompatible, that no two parts of a person could be more incompatible. But standing there, among the boats, shyly waiting to discover the people to whom he felt he would belong, he sensed the foolishness in that.”
“It is a life spent swimming against the gradient, struggling up the channel of other people’s cruelty. It grates him to consider this, the shutting away of the part of him that now throbs and writhes like a new organ that senses so keenly the limitations of his life.”