Thursday May 5th, 2011

A Selection

From Something Happened by Joseph Heller (for a funny anecdote about the book’s creation, see the post below this one). In this passage, the novel’s narrator, Bob Slocum, has just imagined an image of himself standing between his infant daughter and his elderly mother:

And there I am between them, sturdy, youthful, prospering, virile (fossilized and immobilized between them as though between bookends, without knowing how I got there, without knowing how I will ever get out), saddled already with the grinding responsibility of making them, and others, happy, when it has been all I can do from my beginning to hold my own head up straight enough to look existence squarely in the eye without making guileful wisecracks about it or sobbing out loud for help. Who put me here? How will I ever get out? Will I ever be somebody lucky? What decided to sort me into precisely this slot? (What the fuck makes anyone think I am in control, that I can be any different from what I am? I can’t even control my reveries. Virginia’s tit is as meaningful to me now as my mother’s whole life and death. Both of them are dead. The rest of us are on the way. I can almost hear my wife, or my second wife, if I ever have one, or somebody else, saying:

“Won’t you wheel Mr. Slocum out of the shade into the sunlight now? I think he looks a little cold.”

A vacuum cleaner that works well is more important to me than the atom bomb, and it makes not the slightest difference to anyone I know that the earth revolves around the sun instead of vice versa, or the moon around the earth, although the measured ebb and flow of the tides may be of some interest to mariners and clam diggers, but who cares about them? Green is more important to me than God. So, for that matter, is Kagle and the man who handles my dry cleaning, and a transistor radio that is playing too loud is a larger catastrophe to me than the next Mexican earthquake. “Someday” — it must have crossed my mother’s mind at least once, after my denial and rejection of her, since she was only human — “this will happen to you.” Although she was too generous to me ever to say so. But I know it must have crossed her mind.)