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Monday, February 20, 2017

Diversions

It's been a quiet week or two here at Sparrow Tree Journal. I imagine the sound of crickets when I check in here. I've not been feeling much inspiration to write, what with the wall of ice that's now up between me and my parents, and the death of little Chip. (Thank you all for your kind words on both subjects). Mostly I'm just marking time over here waiting for things to develop.

I have applied for three jobs, any one of which would be satisfactory. I have people speaking for me and putting in a good word at all three places--I hope I can at least get an interview for one of them. I'm still trying to eat better and exercise more. The results of that are still lackluster (as far as weight loss), but physically I feel pretty good. Life is just pretty ordinary right now.

I have had some fun diversions in the past couple of weeks. I finally found and read The Black Narcissus by Rumor Godden. I'm a bit disappointed to report that the movie was actually better. I re-read The Greengage Summer, also by Rumer Godden, and that one was better than I remembered so I can recommend it if anybody is interested. My current read is Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders:

Lincoln in the Bardo


And because I'm lazy (and only halfway finished with the book) here is a review from the NPR Books website by Jason Sheehan:

It begins, like so many simpler books before it, with a party. And with a death.

But this is no simple party. It is a state dinner at the White House, hosted by Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln — a lavish, decadent state dinner thrown in 1862, as the meat grinder of the Civil War is just beginning to churn.

And it's no simple death, because it is the death of the Lincolns' beloved young son Willie, of typhoid fever, at age 11. He lay sick upstairs while below, the party went on until dawn. It was thought, in that moment, on that night, that the boy would recover. His mother saved him candies from the elaborate dessert display — a chocolate fish plucked from a pond of spun sugar, a bee made from honey — and told him she would keep them until he was feeling better. Knowing what comes, what history has already told us will happen (must happen), it is the first of a hundred or a thousand small heartbreaks in George Saunders's long-awaited first novel, Lincoln In The Bardo.

And then Willie dies. There is a funeral (glossed over) and an interment in a borrowed crypt in a Georgetown cemetery. Willie Lincoln's body goes into its box and the box goes into its hole in the wall.



At which point the story begins in earnest.

"Bardo" means limbo, a liminal place, between worlds, between lives. In Tibetan Buddhism, it is the bodiless state that exists in the lag between one incarnation and the next, full of unquiet spirits tethered by ... guilt? By rage? By unfinished business, traditionally, or a simple unwillingness to move on.
And Saunders's novel is full of ghosts. Soldiers and children, rapists and virgins, slaves and fools and drunks and a hundred others, including Willie Lincoln, stuck in the bardo and surrounded by a chorus of spirits all urging him to move on or to stay; all giving conflicting, contradictory advice because "These young ones are not meant to tarry," according to one regretful suicide, even though some do — the why of it always a small story, crafted here by a master of small stories.
So for one night in 1862, Saunders uses his ghosts and his historians to build a tapestry of grief. While his sources cite the weeping in the Lincolns' residence, the fury of a nation divided and the petrifying misery which Willie's death provoked in Abraham Lincoln, his ghosts have a worm's-eye view of death and the beyond. In them lives all the pettiness of life (a debt owed, a love unstated) umbrella'd over by the inconceivable horrors of war. While Lincoln has lost one son, he exists in a world overspilling now with lost sons, and soon to be choked with them. While he slips down to the cemetery in the middle of the story's single night to open Willie's casket and hold his boy's body — to mourn in private and feel the weight of his son one more time in his lap — he stands also at the threshold of a war which will snuff hundreds of thousands of lives.

"No one had ever come here to hold one of us, while speaking so tenderly," says one of Saunders's ghosts.

"Ever," says another.

"Young Willie Lincoln was laid to rest on the day that the casualty lists from the Union victory at Fort Donelson were publicly posted," Saunders quotes, from the Journal of American History, then, "More than a thousand troops on both sides were killed and three times that number wounded," from Dolores Kearns Goodwin.

And so these two events, one small, one large, become forever linked. Lincoln's grief, as witnessed by the ghosts, as experienced by Willie, is enormous. The pain of it radiant as the President languishes in his own private bardo. In comparison to the grief of America at war, it is infinitesimal, but at the same time, no less potent or real. And in the friction between these two true things, Saunders finds his terrible, brutal truth: That all lives end too soon. That no one leaves complete. That letting go is the best, hardest thing anyone — even the dead — can do.

So far, this book is touching and unlike anything I've ever read. A great diversion, and I highly recommend it.

Another diversion I enjoyed was a trip to the movies yesterday afternoon with two of my book club pals. We went to see Lion.

image

I should have taken a handkerchief. This film tore me up inside, especially the acting of the young Sunny Pawar as the child Saroo, separated from his mother and brother and lost to them for the next 25 years, and then the final scene when the actual man and his two mothers (birth and adopted) that the film was based on were shown together. I had to sop up my tears on my t-shirt. I thought the film was very good, and recommend it to anyone who might appreciate the release of a good cry. I did, although I'm always embarrassed to weep in public.

There's nothing like good books and good films to divert yourself from the ho-hum of everyday life. Have any of you seen or read anything lately that you'd like to recommend?



15 comments:

  1. Reading your review I definitely want to see Lion; sometimes tears are cathartic for me. I find Angela Thirkell's books diverting in a light hearted way (the 3 I have read).

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    1. It was a good film, and I only cried near the end. And the ending was happy, so....

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  2. I am often known to look at my Greengage tree and say something like "It's going to be a Greengage Summer". Now I know where it comes from. Thanks.

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  3. To answer your question: Yes, I have. Claire Fuller's "Our Endless Numbered Days" has deeply impressed me. The review is on my blog.

    I have read about "Lion" and am not sure I want to watch it - for precisely the reason that I am 99 % certain it is going to make me cry.

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    1. I read your review and it sounds really good. I'm planning to look for it.

      Lion was worth watching, but maybe at home if, like me, you hate to cry in public.

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  4. After you mentioned Rumer Godden I had a look in the Oxfam bookshop where I work for any of her books. I knew I had read her many years ago but couldn't remember the name of the book. It was " Greengage Summer" which you have now reminded me of and I know I really enjoyed it, though can't remember what it was about......a " coming of age" story maybe? We don't go to the cinema very often...... once every 5 years maybe. I tend to wait for films to eventually come on the TV. We recently saw " A United Kingdom", which is a true story about Seretse Khama, an African prince of what was Bechuanaland. It was excellent. My husband particularly enjoyed it as he was in Botswana in '65 for a year and helped with the elections for President and met Seretse and his wife Ruth. Their first child, Jacqueline, who is seen born in the film ( 1951 ish) once pulled him and his colleague out of bed saying they should be up and about!

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    1. Greengage Summer is about a group of children who are stranded in a French hotel after their mother is hospitalized while they're on holiday. The oldest girl, 16 year old Joss, attracts the attention of a dangerous older man with a shady past who is staying at the hotel. The book is available for download on a Nook or Nook app.

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    2. I will see if I can get it on my app for Kindle. Thanks

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  5. Replies
    1. I would be happy with even one interview! The job search has been stalled for a while now and I desperately want to move on with my life. Thank you for the comment!

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  6. Good luck with the job applications Jennifer. I do hope you're successful.
    It's sad that there are problems with your mother and father, but unfortunately few parents are as perfect as they like to think they are.
    I remember reading, and then seeing, "The Greengage Summer" - it was the film that made Susannah York an international name.

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    1. As of yesterday my mom has been reaching out to me on Facebook trying to be nicer. So that's a positive development, I guess.

      I sure could use a big dose of luck in the job search department. I'll take any good wishes I can get!

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  7. Good job cinemas are dark so we can weep in secrecy. Fingers crossed you will get one of these jobs.

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  8. I am not sure I can read your book as good as it sounds. I should read it but the hole in my heart is still there from my daughter's death so many years ago. The sentence "all lives leave too soon and no one leaves complete" is so true.
    Happy to hear the news of the jobs and I hope one becomes your chance to move on. Best would be all three. Happy good wishes to you.
    Not sure what I can say about your parents but remember they chose what and how they live. Your life is to be the best you can live. You can not chose your parents but you can chose your 'Family".

    cheers, parsnip

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