Monday, September 05, 2016

No one transcends

Her parents were too middle-aged and dull to suffer accidents or die before their time, like mountaineers or poets.
For some reason I was under the impression that this book was a comedy. It is not a comedy. It is excruciatingly beautiful and filled with great sadness.

I read Jim Crace's Being Dead in one sitting. It starts with two middle-aged zoologists, husband and wife, Joseph and Celice, on a beach, undressed and very dead.

When their daughter, Syl, arrives at their house days later, she learns that Celice has been reading Calvino's Antonyms. (I can't find any trace of such a book. Anyone?) One strand of the novella details the process of death and the decay of the bodies, over the 6 days till they were found, and this strikes me as a very Calvino-esque element, in a t-zero kind of way, so minutely microcosmically physical as to become cosmically metaphysical, the flesh of a life lived falling away.

So this decomposition is interwoven with the story of their meeting; it's quite musical really, the backwards telling and the forward, their coming together and the falling apart, and then you start to hear the hum, the drone of their current life. The murder itself is percussive, and so is the daughter's anger and resentment.

It's sad how much the daughter is like the mother, but doesn't know it, and will never know it.
How should the dying spend their time when life's short portion shrinks with every waking day? She'd walked to see mortality that Sunday afternoon and found her parents irredeemable. Her gene suppliers had closed shop. Their daughter was the next in line. She could not duck out of the queue. So she should not waste her time in this black universe. The world's small, breathing denizens, its quaking congregations and its stargazers, were fools to sacrifice the flaring briefness of their lives in hopes of paradise or fears of hell. No one transcends. There is no future and no past. There is no remedy for death — or birth — except to hug the spaces in between. Live loud. Live wide. Live tall.
It's sad that Joseph and Celice spent their lives together, but not really together, and that they don't love each other the way they should. It's kind of sad that they ended up together, they were good for each other for a while, for that summer, but a forever should not have grown out of it. It's so sad they should die like this.
They say that hearing is the last of our proficiencies to die, that corpses hear the rustling of bed sheets being pulled across their faces, the early weeping and the window being closed, the footsteps on the wooden stairs, the ruffian departing, the doctor's scratchy pen. This is why our generation talks so quietly in the dying room. And that is why the quiverings of old were not a waste. The body hears the widow and the child, the rattle of the chimney-pot, the quiver sticks, the life unravelled backwards through the night.
Interview: The Paris Review
Review: New York Times

(For the record, I loved Crace's The Pesthouse. On the basis of that book, I have a couple other of his works lined up on my shelf. On the basis of Being Dead, I'll be getting to them sooner rather than later.)

No comments: