■ As much a meditation on loss and grief as it is an exploration of memory and how memory shapes (and haunts and robs from) the present, William Maxwell’s 1980 novel So Long, See You Tomorrow is as perfect a book as A Good School or Revolutionary Road (both by Richard Yates) or Olive Kittredge (Elizabeth Strout).
What I didn’t say, across the few feet that separated our two beds, was that I couldn’t understand how it had happened to us. It seemed like a mistake. And mistakes ought to be rectified, only this one couldn’t be. Between the way things used to be and the the way they were now was a void that couldn’t be crossed. I had to find an explanation other than the real one, which was that we were no more immune to misfortune that anybody else, and the idea that kept recurring to me, perhaps because of that pacing the floor with my father, was that I had inadvertently walked through a door I shouldn’t have gone through and couldn’t get back to the place I hadn’t meant to leave.
What we, or at any rate I, refer to confidently as memory — meaning a moment, a scene, a fact that has been subjected to a fixative and thereby rescued from oblivion — is really a form of storytelling that goes on continually in the mind and often changes with the telling. Too many conflicting emotional interests are involved for life ever to be wholly acceptable, and possibly it is the work of the storyteller to rearrange things so that they conform to this end. In any case, in talking about the past we lie with every breath we draw.
In the face of a deprivation so great, what is the use of asking him to go on being the boy he was. He might as well start life over again as some other boy instead.
■ The Shakespeare Project of Chicago is hosted by libraries, and the library at which we saw King John is engaged in a “One Book, One Community” program for which The Story Hour (Thrity Umrigar) is the selection. It interested me enough to order a copy.
■ I wanted to add another passage from J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy to the commonplace book before shelving it:
For kids like me, the part of the brain that deals with stress and conflict is always activated — the switch flipped indefinitely. We are constantly ready to fight or flee, because there is constant exposure to the bear, whether that bear is an alcoholic dad or an unhinged mom. We become hardwired for conflict. And that wiring remains, even when there’s no more conflict to be had.
■ As I mentioned last week, Elegy segues neatly into Evicted (Matthew Desmond). Fifty pages in, what I’ve noticed so far is that Desmond seems evenhanded in his depiction of the tenants and their landlords.