Sunday, August 18, 2019

The weight of absence

"Melancholia, as you call it, germinates in the mind, but blossoms in the body."
The Therapist by Nial Giacomelli is a slim novel with weighty aspirations. It's wholly atmospheric and a little strange.

I didn't enjoy this book much, and most of that's on me. It covers depressing subject matter, the kind of emotional drama that just isn't my jam. It's about grief, a couple dealing with grief, and I think I can just leave it at that so as not to spoil anything for you. I have yet to read a book that takes on grieving as a theme in a way that resonates meaningfully with me.
We sit beneath a painting of the sea and talk about the weight of absence. How after the accident we had both begun to see the body of our own grief. We had watched as it was born, fusing bone and knitting skin. How over the course of several weeks it had come together in the shape not of a man, but of a boy. And how gradually it had taken residence in the house, bringing with it a furious anger.
I didn't like the narrator. He comes across as a selfish asshole husband. Now, this is kind of the point, as it's very much tied up in the blame that is thrown around the guilt everyone denies or wallows in. But the aha moment came too late for me to care — I deeply loathed the asshole for being in his marriage in the way that he was and didn't give a shit about his redemption. I put this one on the author — maybe it's a question of the timing of certain revelations of the narrator's character. Maybe this is a woman's reading of his character, but I disliked him too much, too early. That is, I can appreciate what the author was trying to do with this character, but it didn't work for me.
She suffered stress headaches, much like she had as a teenager, migraines that would blossom like cactus flowers in the depths of her eye sockets. She was struck by a terrible malaise that kept her bedridden. And though I knew only stories of her youth, I was forced to watch helplessly as the wounds of her depression reopened across the geography of her body.
While grief takes up residence in their bodies, a plague is ravaging America. People are becoming transparent, until they disappear. They become one with the dead before them. Our couple lives in terror of the disease encroaching on their own remote territory. I would've preferred to focus on that epic apocalypse, or on the neighbours (the kind of Joneses you want to keep up with, despite them having their own deep troubles) rather than the intimate one. (But there's a point in here too about grief and how intensely private it is; it refuses sometimes to let the world in, it can't be fixed from the outside.)
By day we explore the geography of the continent and at night we explore the geography of each other. Two shapes that come together as one.
The metaphor was crafted to death. The words "body" and "bodies" occur more than 100 times in this 125-page story. Body-related imagery combined with geographical references abounds.
An infographic appears showing landmass consumed by an acreage of growing red dots. It looks like an X-ray, an organ riddled with tumours.
Taken individually, many of these sentences are stunning, but the whole of them felt overwritten and tiresome.
They walk like a chain gang into a makeshift compound, a shanty town of relief tents that look like white pustules against the landscape.
Shame on me, but life et cetera, and I skimmed through the final pages. Something about the incorporeality of love and what love can then embody. The resolution is not entirely clear to me, nor do I understand the nature of the eponymous therapist.

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