Sunday, September 25, 2011

Enduring Love

Sometimes in my life, I get feelings about things. I don’t mean everyday coincidences, such as the fact that today I e-mailed a consultant about grass (my life is so exciting, I know), and it turns out he was on the job site at that moment looking at the grass. That’s a coincidence.

By feelings, I mean connections between people, often before they are aware of it themselves. I often am able to pick up when a person likes someone else…not obvious flirtations, but those secret things we don’t always like to admit. The way they throw a snowball, or the slight, so easy to miss twinkle in their eye at the mention of the person’s name.

Once, I don’t remember the situation, but I shared a very personal story with a friend of mine. There was some subtle something in the way she reacted to the story, and I thought, I think she (yes she) is in love with me. Months later…maybe four or five months later, she tells me that she is in love with me. Here was the rest of the conversation:

“I know.”
“You know?”
“I’ve known since November.”
“But I didn’t realize it until March.”
“I’ve known since November.”

I usually try to keep these feelings at arms lengths, especially when there is a desire for them to be correct. So I try to ignore them, and let things go where they go. And also because every now and then I seem to be off.

In Ian McEwan’s Enduring Love, Jed Parry gets it very, very wrong.

I loved the first few paragraphs, setting up the story:

The beginning is simple to mark. We were in sunlight under a turkey oak, partly protected from a strong, gusty wind. I was kneeling on the grass with a corkscrew in my hand, and Clarissa was passing me the bottle – a 1987 Daumas Gassac. This was the moment, this was the pinprick on the time map: I was stretching out my hand, and as the cool neck and the black foil touched my palm, we heard a man’s shout. We turned to look across the field and saw the danger. Next thing, I was running toward it. The transformation was absolute: I don’t recall dropping the corkscrew, or getting to my feet, or making a decision, or hearing the caution Clarissa called after me. What idiocy, to be racing into this story and its labyrinths, sprinting away from our happiness among the fresh spring grasses by the oak. There was a shout again, and a child’s cry, enfeebled by the wind that roared in the tall trees along the hedgerows. I ran faster. And there, suddenly, from different points around the field, four other men were converging on the scene, running like me.

…I’m holding back, delaying the information. I’m lingering in the prior moment because it was a time when other outcomes were still possible; the convergence of six figures in a flat green space has a comforting geometry from the buzzard’s perspective, the knowable, limited plane of the snooker table. The initial conditions, the force and the direction of the force, define all the consequent pathways, all the angles of collision and return, and the glow of the overhead light bathes the field, the baize and all its moving bodies, in reassuring clarity. I think that while we were still converging, before we made contact, we were in a state of mathematical grace. I linger on our dispositions, the relative distances and the compass point- because as far as these occurrences were concerned, this was the last time I understood anything clearly at all.

What were we running toward? I don’t think any of us would ever know fully…it was an enormous balloon filled with helium, that elemental gas forged from hydrogen in the nuclear furnace of the stars, first step along the way in the generation of multiplicity and variety of matter in the universe, including our selves and our thoughts.

We were running toward a catastrophe, which itself was a kind of furnace in whose heat identities and fates would buckle into new shapes.

One of the men running was Jed Parry. Our narrator, Joe Rose, has an odd encounter with him when one of the people trying to hold down the balloon is lifted up and eventually falls to his death. Jed asks Joe to pray with him there over the body. Joe refuses, disgusted at this reaction and leaves. In the middle of the night, Joe receives a phone call from Jed: he knows that Joe is in love with him, and he just wanted to call and let him know that he was in love too. So it begins.

Jed follows him – staking out his apartment, interpreting the movement of curtains for signals from Joe. And Joe’s wife Clarissa misses all of this. Jed hides when he sees her coming, and his handwriting is close enough to Joe’s that Clarissa thinks Joe is making it all up. Until he tries to kill them.

I thought the book got off track when Joe goes to find Jean (widow of the man who fell), and she asks him to find the girl that must have been in the car with her husband. She believes he must have been having an affair with whoever left the scarf behind. This plot line was then seemingly forgotten about to return to the original plot – so wholly forgotten that I had to go back and make sure I didn’t skip a chapter. It is introduced again at the very end for what seemed like no purpose. After thinking about it, the purpose obviously was to give a non-psychotic twist on the case of getting it wrong. Jean believes – based on evidence she interprets – that he husband was having an affair. In actuality, he had picked up an illicit hitchhiking couple who flee the scene when it takes its deadly turn.

In the end, I don’t think that I particularly cared for Enduring Love. I think I really enjoyed the Jed Parry/Joe Rose story…maybe “enjoyed” isn’t the word. I was freaked out, kept interested. But the other portions of it seemed superfluous. I thought for certain that when Rose looked into the mysterious scarf left in the car, he would find another reason to fear Parry. Instead, he found what amounted to a strange and unnecessary feel good ending – or at least feel good in context. The end, generally, all neatly tied up, was really just feel good in context. And I suppose that that is where my disappointment lies. Not because I didn’t want it to end well for Joe and Clarissa, or anyone else, but it seemed both rushed and dragged out at the same time. I found myself skimming through conversations on Keats to find out what Parry was going to do next.

So, something like The Mustache is happening here with my reaction to the book. It was, as a whole, just ho-hum...the ending like a deflating balloon (pun intended). The ideas that the novel presented and explored, however, were interesting and disturbing. McEwan writes, “No one could agree on anything. We lived in a mist of half-shared, unreliable perception, and our sense data came warped by a prism of desire and belief, which tilted our memories too. We saw and remembered in our own favor, and we persuaded ourselves along the way….believing is seeing.” How much do we see about the world, and our relationships, simply because we believe it? How much of the stuff we see as symbolic, or “meaning something” is just coincidence? What’s disturbing here is to see those pattern-seeking tendencies we have as humans blown up into something deadly. And where is the line between generally reading evidence and drawing a wrong conclusion, and just being certifiable? Probably somewhere around the time you start following someone around. Creepy.

1 comment:

Becky (Page Turners) said...

I loved Enduring Love. I find McEwan hard to read. I start his books all the time and rarely finish them. I think i started this book about 5 times before I actually got into it and kept reading it and then I couldn't put it down. At times I thought it was stretchign reality a little bit. It is a long time since I read it, but I remember his girlfriend/wife not takng him very seriously when he complains about a stalker and I thought that probably wasn;t a very accurate reflection of how a parnter might react to that kind concern. But despite that, I couldn't put it down