I have been reading my infrequent diary; I suppose that is the kind of mood I’m in. On 11 March 2016, at 6:30PM, I wrote: “I want a book that will offer me consolation. A book with an ineffectual hero who never amounts to much, a sentimental sort who loves but never rises to tragic heights. Someone who fails to fail.” Of course, I can’t remember what prompted that thought, but it couldn’t have been anything good. What happened last March?
In any case, I have found that book (or books) and that hero (or heroes). And so I’ve decided to take a break from The Timekeeper (that book which insists on inspiring you) and return to The Book of Evidence (the book that never wants to).
My ineffectual hero is visiting his mother. There is a stable girl there in jodhpurs looking after ponies. Jodhpurs: the detail is significant, telling. He can’t say whether her name is Joan, Jane, or Jean. (If I were psycholoanalyzing, I would remark at the repetition of ‘j’, both in the name and the apparel. But I shouldn’t.) Joan, Jane, or Jean shows up again, and our hero tries to live up to the name I’ve given him:
I gave her one of my special, slow smiles, and saw myself through her eyes, a tall, tanned hunk in a linen suit, leaning over her on a summer lawn and murmuring dark words.
Just a few sentences later, we find that he has put his hand on one of the ponies she is caring for, and this reaction:
Suddenly I had a vivid, queasy sense of myself, not the tanned pin-up now, but something else, something pallid and slack and soft. I was aware of my toenails, my anus, my damp, constricted crotch. And I was ashamed. I can’t explain it. That is, I could, but won’t.
So much is clear: he had wished to appear romantic to himself by seeing himself through the eyes of the girl, to appear to be in control, smooth, unruffled; yet the beast he put his hand on was not the trick or sleight of hand he was seeking to achieve through his little act of flirtation — this beast was the truth, it was him. He and this stupid, stubborn animal are really not so different.
Why ashamed? We needn’t look far for an explanation. He had said that obviously mother had felt an affinity after noting the similarities between the stable girl and his parent. By extrapolation it is easy to guess that what he could explain and won’t is his desire for his own mother. There is nothing civilized about such sentiments; there is only the animal, the brutish and stupid.
This refusal to find words is repeated elsewhere. He recalls the scene of his father’s death:
His hands. The rapid beat of his breathing. His —
Enough. I was speaking of my mother.
Although he allows himself to begin to think of his father, his recollection only succeeds in bringing him to the brink of the truth, and no further. Beyond that point lies only the ellipsis, white space. Again, what he refuses to declare is already hinted at. Previously he had accused himself of accidie; here he says his father had become a potterer, he who all his life had been driven by fierce, obsessive energies. So what’s past is prologue: that is the horror. If we hate our parents, then surely there can be no greater punishment for that great sin of hatred than the process of becoming like them, and nothing more poetically just either.
Two places then, in the space of a few pages, where the narrator breaks off, where he abandons or makes obvious the charade he has been putting up with this welter of words. He is eloquent where he has no need to be, is dumb on the subject of his loss.
Uncannily, I am reminded of what I started this entry with. Why can I not remember the events, or thoughts, that triggered that desire for just such a book, just such a hero? If I were the narrator now, and there is a reader picking at my words and my silences, what would be clear to that reader, which to me is impossible to see, or appear too well-hidden to require confession?