’d like to begin with my brainy, fun cousin’s remarks about readers of a certain age.
In the context of her views on No One is Talking About This, an Internet novel, really, and one written by Patricia Lockwood, who at the time of the telling appeared to be about 36 years old, my cousin got me thinking about if there’s a certain age group for a particular book.
“Here are my thoughts on No One Is Talking About This…
“1) By pg. 26 I wanted to slap her and take her phone away. I thought, “What a waste of precious time…finite life.”
“2) Noticed a change in direction about a third of the way in (wouldn’t have gotten that far if I hadn’t promised you in my head). Character began to separate herself from the ‘portal’ and become real to me.
“3) I could barely bring myself to read it until halfway through, but I could barely put it down thereafter.
“4) I suspect the author may lose older, ‘pre-portal’ readers early on. Too bad, because what she has to say is powerful.”
I had to go hunt up page 26 to see if there was anything that stuck out as in, ouch, I can’t read this anymore.
How about p. 25 when the narrator laments, “’My Space was an entire life,’” she nearly wept at a bookstore in Chicago … ‘And it is lost, lost, lost!’”
I am taking a guess, here, but I imagine somebody who grew up without computers, those long, boring afternoons to fill, would not have wept at the demise of My Space.
So is Lockwood only computer generation friendly? What was interesting in order to answer that question was to find an interview on line with herself (younger, b. 1982) and John Lancaster, a British poet, older (b.1942).
Under the auspicious of The London Review of Books the interviewer, Lancaster, made an interesting point. He used George Eliot, the writer of the novel Middlemarch, published in 1871, as a way of understanding Lockwood’s book.
BACK TO INTERVIEW
Lockwood made the point that when she joined Twitter in 2011, she had the simultaneous feeling as a writer of being so open, it was as if she were in space, and yet she also felt as if she were in a closet, constrained. She liked the constraints of Twitter because she identifies as a poet. She was already writing sentences like that (the old character limit) and not the new. She also introduced the character of the dictator in her novel, a Twitter whiz, and we all know who that is.
The interviewer, the elder Lancaster, brought up the dangers of this kind of Internet or portal immersion, in this way. “One of the problems,” he said, [is] “the corollary risk of the world being in your head all the time.” This problem he found most beautifully expressed by the narrator in George Eliot’s Middlemarch, which, Lancaster said, is basically about consciousness. Here is the sentence which he claimed is probably the best sentence in all of English literature.
Eliot writes, “If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel’s heartbeat, we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence.”
Lockwood responded by agreeing and adding a list of what we hear now, such as fingernails growing and people’s thoughts. She said that she herself thought of that particular best sentence in all of English literature in the writing of her novel.
What was enheartening to me about this exchange is that the older expressions of this dilemma, the roar on the other side of silence, inform the new iterations. And the newer expressions resonate with the earlier ones. To me it says that there is a kind of cohesion in human experience despite all the disjunction.
Here is the interview in its 57 minute glory to enjoy while doing the dishes.
Here is a photo below of the two of them. Notice all the books behind them? Marie Condo recommends 30 books. La vache! (The cow! or Wow, you’ve got to be kidding!)
So, now, what is this Middlemarch?
This novel by George Eliot, (b.1819 d.1880), who is also Mary Ann Evans with pseudonym, is acclaimed highly. More so, perhaps, than in its lifetime, when the author was in an open relationship with a married man, George Henry Lewes. The very openness was the object of scorn. Lewes’ wife who had four children by another man during, it seems, her marriage, was later deemed an hysteric and committed to an asylum. Perhaps this complicated life gave rise to an understanding of what it’s like to wrestle with complexity.
Interestingly enough, Eliot’s story concerns not so much courtship, popular at the time, but marriage, two different marriages, in fact. And the other striking feature of the book, besides its telling of so called provincial life, is the range of the narrator’s voice. The teller of this tale is a character in her own right.
More on Middlemarch here:
PUTTING IT TOGETHER
I wish I could come up with a pithy, twittery remark, such as this: A young wine and a seasoned wine are both drinkable. (Oh dear.) But I can say that I was glad to see George Eliot and her nineteenth century novel were brought to bear in a discussion with a twitter-trained poet turned novelist. And frankly, vice versa. I found it challenging to read Lockwood, esp in the beginning because eveything seemed random. Oddly, it takes concentration to read about the chihuahua and the flat earthers and the Nazis—to hold it all in your head when there is no thread. And yet, while I think it is probably true that she is giving vent to some of her own experience, she is also skewering the foolishness of her generation and our own. Back on page 25, she creates an entry in italics: “In remembrance of those we lost on 9/11 the hotel will provide coffee and mini-muffins from 8:45 – 9:15.” I see in this the inanity of the well-meaning gesture. The reducto ad absurdism of human life. Which, of course brings us to Waiting for Godot.
In this absurdist play, written by Samuel Beckett, and premiered on January 5, 1953, it is said that nothing happens twice. In Lockwood’s book, I would say that nothing happens only once and then something very challenging happens in Part II. Beckett’s country lane could as easily be the portal, redeemed only but wit and juxtaposition of absurdities as is Lockwood’s novel.
READER: Ok, but why do we read Godot again?
So, yes, readers do have an age. I do think generational features attract readers, but we are all invited to the party. I like ending a piece with the word “party,” so I will do that. Party.