Friday, February 11, 2011

Objects were quieter than people

"But why did you push the boy off the tower?"

He did something bad, Chuck began, the crossed it out. He tore something of mine apart and hurt its feelings.
"But only people have feelings," Dr. Finkelstein said, "not objects."

This was the most ridiculous thing Chuck had ever heard. Objects were quieter than people, maybe, but no less sensitive. The one big difference was that objects could not move. They weren't able to fake their feelings or hide them. It was people who could lie, people who could pretend. People could laugh like friends and then beat you up. People could say they were your dad and hit you. Sometimes the faces of people seemed unreal to Chuck, inhuman. They were like masks they wore over their real faces. Masks to show how old or how young they were. Masks to show how healthy or how sick they were. People could cry out of sadness or happiness or anger. But then they could smile for the exact same reasons. The strangeness of people went on an on and on. Objects, on the other hand, were mostly simple and good. Chuck was always kind to them — it was a rule. They needed his help to make it in the world. They had no one else to to look out for them. That was why he was so upset about the book. He had tried fixing it and had let it down. It gave off more light now than it had before. Why, then, had he taken it at all, he wondered? He was no more than thief and kidnapper. The book would be better off with anyone but him. He might as well give it away to a stranger.

— from The Illumination, by Kevin Brockmeier.

I'm at about two-thirds, and even though the stories are progressively looser, weaker, and despite the alimony thing, and also the health care system as described in the novel (maybe this is one of those US–Canada differences, but I know someone who lost a section of finger — granted, not a thumb, as in the book — and after rushing to the emergency room and some swift medical attention he was sent back home, so when she spends days, nights, in hospital, I wonder what kind of insurance plan she might have as a photo editor or archivist or whatever, it's never made entirely clear but it seems a decent-enough living, unless it's something the alimony checks after 4 years of childless marriage afford her, and physio — really? — why am I letting myself get worked up over these details? honestly, so often, stuff like this passes me by...), it's proving to be a sweet (but not saccharine), thoughtful read.
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