Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Now the smiling starts

Groggy commuters thread their way out from underground, heading east toward Lexington Avenue, not yet up for the battle for taxis. In the meantime, of the seven hundred faces she has seen this morning, almost all have been forgotten. Now the smiling starts.

She has learned to do it. Only rarely is she still startled by the smile that every morning instantaneously shows up on, slips aside from, and crashes down off the face of the girl at the department reception desk. She feels she is too slow for the elaborate, unvarying exchange: the hello, the inquiry into how it's going, the answer, the counterquestion, the counteranswer, the goodbye. She has trouble making it to the end of the script within the four strides of a hallway encounter. She hasn't learned that. Still, she feels that her smile covers her and she ramps it up to the point of downright merriment.
— from Anniversaries: From a Year in the Life of Gesine Cresspahl (Volume 1, August 1967 – April 1968), by Uwe Johnson.

I don't know why I'm reading this. Why am I reading this? How did I hear about it? Why did I order it? When I started, I had doubts about liking it. But before I knew it, I was zipping along — I like it quite a bit.

It reminds me of when I discovered Patrick Hamilton, quite by accident, the breathlessness, the urban rush, the outpourings of humanity, only here is the New York City Subway instead of the London Underground.

What's it about? I'm 150 pages in, and I don't know yet. Racism and fascism, Vietnam and the Holocaust, hippies and Negroes, immigrants and expats, entitlement and injustice. Possibly marriage and motherhood, family and hard choices.

It's about how the New York Times reports the news ("it helped us and taught us to accept reality with the expectations and judgments our parents had tried to inculcate" — I read this the same day the Times prints "I'm fucked" on its front page).

The novel consists of dated entries. Gesine's mother had kept a book of complaints (when she was a newlywed German immigrant to England). Now her daughter asks Gesine to make something like that for her. "Not complaints about me. What you're thinking now, things I won't understand until later. Complaints are okay too." Although set over 50 years ago, it may be everything I hoped this blog to be.

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