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This photo reminds me of An Infinite Summer, a beautiful, beautiful short story by the Brit novelist Christopher Priest in which – for no apparent reason - characters are frozen into tableaux, which only some of the characters can see.

Look at the three of us! Aren’t we beautiful? And we will remain preserved inside this timeless moment for always, the older woman, the two beautiful faun-like children, the sun setting at just the right angle to enhalo the girl and the boy in unearthly radiance. Us. Forever.

###

Also in T-burg, I passed a sign on a back country road crudely lettered, Colonial Encampment.

Naturally, I had to investigate.

I drove three miles along this deeply rutted dirt road (extremely grateful for my new tires and new suspension system) and found myself in this camp where between 50 and a hundred men, women and children dressed in 18th century clothing were running around on top of this hillside pretending to be European settlers. It was pretty cool! They were having some kind of musket fire-off in the nearby forest. The fog swirled; the woods echoed. Neat!

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Then I sped off to Ithaca where I watched a simulcast of the National Theater’s newish production of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan.

The real Peter Pan has naught to do with the bowdlerized Disney version but instead is a deeply weird piece of fancy filled with archetypes and profound anthropological insights into the land of childhood imagination – although now that harried parents are thrusting iPads into their two-year-olds’ hands, I suppose children no longer have imaginations: They’re just one more demographic to market to.

I first read Barrie’s novelization of the play – Peter Pan and Wendy – when I was five years old or so, and the book has stayed with me:

Mrs. Darling first heard of Peter when she was tidying up her children’s minds. It is the nightly custom of every good mother after her children are asleep to rummage in their minds and put things straight for next morning, repacking into their proper places the many articles that have wandered during the day. If you could keep awake (but of course you can’t) you would see your own mother doing this, and you would find it very interesting to watch her. It is quite like tidying up drawers. You would see her on her knees, I expect, lingering humorously over some of your contents, wondering where on earth you had picked this thing up, making discoveries sweet and not so sweet, pressing this to her cheek as if it were as nice as a kitten, and hurriedly stowing that out of sight. When you wake in the morning, the naughtiness and evil passions with which you went to bed have been folded up small and placed at the bottom of your mind and on the top, beautifully aired, are spread out your prettier thoughts, ready for you to put on.

This, my friends, is a deeply, deeply creepy image.

… and thus it will go on, so long as children are gay and innocent and heartless.

Which means the cycle stops tomorrow since children whose parents let electronic devices tell them stories are merely consumers-in-training who will grow up to be deeply dull little conformists.

Which I suppose is good for collective intelligence.

But not for art.

The casting in this production was especially interesting. In nearly every production ever performed of this play, Captain Hook is essayed by the same actor who plays George Darling, the children’s father. (This tradition harkens back to Gerald du Maurier who starred in the very first production of Peter Pan. Du Maurier was the father of the novelist Daphne – herself no stranger to deeply weird fiction – as well as the uncle of the boys who inspired Barrie to write the play.)

In this production, Captain Hook is played by the woman who plays Mary Darling, the children’s mother.

In full pirate drag, she is ghoulish:

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On the drive home, I finished listening to the audio book of Fates and Furies. Yes, yes – I read the book. But I wanted to figure out exactly how Lauren Groff managed to achieve the effects she achieved, and listening to the words somehow gives me a better handle on that.

###

Got home, went off and tutored Samir.

When I got home from tutoring Samir, Max called from Alaska.

“It must be getting darker there earlier now,” I said.

“Yeah,” Max said. “Gets dark around midnight.”

“Wow!” I said.

“When I first got here” – June – “it was light pretty near 24 hours a day,” Max said. “I mean, yeah. Degrees of light. Dusk. Twilight. But light.”

Max will be returning from Anchorage to Berkeley in 10 days. Nathan asked Max to be his best man, so that means Max will be returning to the East Coast for the wedding – which I think is supposed to take place in New Haven some time around Christmas. (Yay!)

“You should come!” he said.

“I think most properly that invitation is supposed to come from Nathan,” I said.

Also Max is considering applying to UCB’s public policy school when he graduates from law school. My alma mater!

“Since public policy in the criminal sector is what I’m specifically interested in,” he said.

“It’s the second best public policy school in the nation!” I cried.

“Nope. It’s the best,” he told me.

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Lotto loves Mathilde.

Or maybe he doesn’t: Lotto is a supreme narcissist, and he’s probably incapable of loving anyone but himself.

Mathilde loves Lotto.

Or maybe she doesn’t: Mathilde is so compartmentalized and damaged, she’s probably incapable of loving anyone. And she definitely does not love herself.

Fates and Furies is the story of Lotto and Mathilde’s marriage.

And guess what? The marriage works.

But that’s not why Fates and Furies works.

Readers seem either to love Fates and Furies, or to want to smash it against a wall, hurl invective at it (pretentious, purple prose, meaningless phrases), almost as if these readers were disappointed lovers. It’s seldom one comes across a novel that elicits reactions that are this strong or this polarized. To me, this is proof of the magnitude of Lauren Groff’s accomplishment: She’s written something that’s so original, it’s controversial.

Yeah, yeah, the Roshomon twist is kind of the standard post-modern yawner. And how many novels are there about complicated marriages? Too many.

It’s not the plot of this novel that makes it so thrillingly good although certainly there is a mystery in the relationship between its two central characters that’s intriguing. Every self-help book you’ve ever snuck a peek at says these types of relationships are just wrong.

Groff’s singular writing is what makes this novel such a unique reading experience. I’d describe it as a kind of prose pointillism, a style that translates thoughts and actions into metaphors that serve as the literary equivalent of flashes of light, glancing and dancing from their original focus (Lotto, Mathilde) to illuminate everything in Groff’s frame of reference: landscape details, minor characters’ inner dialogues, minor characters’ ultimate fates, historical discursions. It’s a really original take on the omniscient narrator.

Groff’s style more than anything is what infuriates readers who don’t like the book. Hey! When they picked it up at Barnes & Noble, they thought they were picking up a big juicy roman á clef about modern marriage! And this novel has it all from graphic sex scenes (some of them kinky) to upward social trajectories to a big heart attack. Except that you can’t understand any of it without deliberate thought! Groff refuses to use the Subject*Verb*Object formula! (If I were a better writer myself, there’s a pun I could make here juxtaposing pointillism with pointless.)

Groff’s pointilist style is dazzling but also utilitarian. Fates and Furies spans a chronology of approximately 70 years, so Groff is writing about a retrospective future that must parallel the past without being too obvious. In that sense, Fates and Furies reminded me a bit of One Hundred Years of Solitude (full disclosure: I haven’t opened that novel for 30 years): There really is no story here until we read it.

A more obvious comparison is with Nabokov who had the same fascination with netting bright metaphors, with making puns, with using classical literature less as a template and more as an alternate timeline. Plot is as incidental to Groff as it was to Nabokov, so that while the theme of Fates and Furies – Marriage! Ain’t It Complicated? – is fairly simplistic, it can be difficult to determine what exactly is happening on any given page. The escapist pleasures of Fates and Furies are not the escapist pleasures of, say, a beach novel; they’re more about solving a puzzle whose clues are in those thousands of short, imagistic sentences. There’s an ostensibly random quality to those shimmering sentences, but really, they only make sense if you add them up in a certain way. The author’s way.

I loved Fates and Furies. But I’m not sure I would recommend it to anyone. It requires commitment. It requires an appreciation of the ways that the written word differs from movies and TV shows. Sadly, in the time of Netflix and Hulu, that appreciation is mostly lost.

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