I saw this article on The Millions two weeks ago, which notes Erlend Loe’s Naïve.Super. After noticing the shipping time on amazon, I marched myself to the library and filled out the interlibrary loan request. Book came on Thursday, I started to read it yesterday and finished it this morning.
My first impression of the novel – as I was reading it walking through the library parking lot – was that it would be cute; right up my alley. As I started to read it seriously, though, it began to feel a bit derivative – a little too much like a combination of Wittgenstein’s Mistress (in structure), and a hero from the Jonathan Safran Foer/Jonthan Letham/Mark Haddon mold. Though that really isn’t fair, since Naïve.Super was published in 1996, and the quirky, neurotic and/or autistic characters were all created (or published) in the decade after. So maybe they are the derivative work. Don’t know. I just feel like I’ve been encountering this voice quite a lot.
But then on Sunday came the moment where I had to put the book down. This feeling had been slowly creeping up on me, but I didn’t catch it – identify it – until this moment:
TV is a good thing. I ought to watch TV more often. I get pleasantly diverted. I can’t quite tell whether the thoughts I’m having are my own or if they’re coming from the TV. Animal programmes are the best. David Attenborough explaining that nature is intricate and that it all fits together. Wasps that navigate according to the sun. they know what they’re doing, the wasps. They know a lot better than I do.OMG this person is just like me.
Yes Yes Yes on David Attenborough. Does anyone else do this – watch nature documentaries for perspective – to feel that everything is just part of the grand parade of life? Or is it just me and this unnamed character? Is that where the feeling of derivation came from – not from Foer or Lethem or Haddon, but from my own head? I think, really, it’s a combination. Still. FREAKY.
This character is having something of a quarter life crisis. He quits college and moves into his brother’s apartment while his brother is in New York. He’s going somewhat crazy, and finds comfort in throwing a ball against a wall, playing with a hammer-and-peg set, and reading about the universe. I do that too – read about the universe that is – when I’m feeling out of sorts. Nothing, really, is more comforting for me than the stars and string theory. Have you seen the Google Sky Map app? These last few months I’ve been looking at it a lot, just moving my phone around and seeing what I’m surrounded by whether I can see them or not. Does this sound strange? Maybe. But you should try it sometime.
This is that feeling that was creeping up on me. I have never encountered myself in a novel as much as I have here. And that’s really, really freaky.
“I think he’s got problems with time himself, but that he still hasn’t found out. One day he’ll be the one who hits the wall.”Things have been weird for me the last few months, though they are working themselves out. I’ve learned a lot about myself, and a lot about how I deal with other people, and how my own limits and suspicions both protect me and hinder me.
I think quite a lot. I have very few waking moments during which I’m not thinking about anything; and usually those few moments of “quiet” are interrupted by someone asking, “what are you thinking about?” Perhaps I’m most deep in thought when I look like I’m not thinking. And vice versa. Sometimes this is a problem – when I need that quiet and am unable to get it within my own brain, or when the constant din goes off the rails and the only respite is to listen to AM radio from Quebec – the more static the better. Perhaps that makes me sound crazy.
It’s taken me most of my life to understand that not everyone thinks as much – or about the same things – as I do. That not everyone is as concerned about what the universe is expanding into, or if hell is a state of mind can you think yourself out of it? And what is color and does it exist objectively? (I don’t believe that it does – I’m a color subjectivist...there are others out there with me on this one. People smarter than me and you.) When I talk about these things which genuinely interest me and sometimes keep me awake at night people mostly just stare at me. Or tell me I think too much.
Well, damn it (here’s where my frustration of the last three months comes out…) maybe I think just the right amount. I should start telling people, “Maybe you don’t think enough.” Maybe the world would grind to a screeching halt if it were filled with people who think as much as I do, but most people could probably use a little more sincere reflection on themselves and the universe and their place in it.
So in this little crazy tornado, I came to realize that thinking too much isn’t necessarily a problem. It can be, but it isn’t necessarily. I’m not an extrovert. I never will be, and it’s silly of me to try to pretend that I am or could be - or even that I understand extroverts. I don’t. I’ve given up. But by giving up on trying to be what I’m not, I’ve accepted (at least a little bit) what I am. My personality certainly has its downsides, but it also has its upsides. And I wouldn’t give one inch of my ocean of contemplation for one more extra of extroversion. Somehow Naïve.Super brought that home.
A parting thought from Loe’s too-familiar-for-comfort novel:
“There is no time. There is a life and a death. There are people and animals. Our thoughts exist. And the world. The universe, too. But there is no time. You might as well take it easy. Do you feel better now? I feel better. This is going to work out. Have a nice day.”