This chapter is solely about Jim Mayn, but that does not make it easy. Easier, yes, but I must confess I was several paragraphs into this when I had to backtrack and read over because the opening wasn’t immediately clear to me and I had to recalibrate once I figured out the setting and the situation. It begins with talk of faint memories from youth, likened to certain experiences of sound and music, and it’s only a couple pages in when I realized this was about Sarah talking to young Jim, specifically about Margaret’s story of Choor and the princess sent out to hunt monsters.
And from that memory we jump forward to the near future, where an adult Jim witnesses a kind of teleportation to the moon where two people are sent up but merge into one when they arrive. We are again reminded that Jim never dreams, and land the story back to the present of the 1970s, in a railroad flat apartment in Greenwich Village, New York City. Jim, apparently a journalist, is interviewing a Hermit-Meteorologist about some innovative weather theory or invention, I’m not sure which. I think it’s about weather that manifests without any cause. Jim dwells on his former marriage – by the end of the chapter we discover her name is Joy – and begins to think of his kids as well, one son and one daughter, both adults now.
We are told of a home that passes overhead every 90 minutes, which we quickly figure out is Skylab – though I must admit, I initially got I confused with Spacelab – and we somehow slowly segue to Jim a few days later, in a bar in Cocoa Beach, Florida, talking with a woman in a potentially romantic situation. We find out he went to Florida on a “dead vacation” and as he talks with the woman his mind wanders back to the teleportation and the notion of Locus, and we are made aware that there is a planned mission to get some astronauts onto Skylab, which was initially launched unmanned and is still circling the sky by itself, an empty home.
As the chapter continues, we learn that Jim is not here to cover the mission for his news service, though he does attend the event – though the mission gets delayed – and meets the woman who he is at the bar with, who is herself covering the event officially. Jim is seeking out The Chilean, a contact he had made before, who he last met back during the last NASA mission sending men to the moon, Apollo 17. There is a sense of intrigue with this Chilean contact, whose name may be McKenna we discover, and a man named Spence, who was also seeking this person.
At the bar, Jim gets into an argument with some locals about the point of sending men to Skylab when they should just send men to other planets. The local he is arguing with tells a gruesome story about finding an auto accident on the road with a dead woman in the driver seat and a steering wheel that doesn’t stop spinning. And this leads into a game of pool, with a it of tension still between Jim and the local.
We find out more about The Chilean, who worked for Salvador Allende, and who was supposed to meet Spence, which dismays Jim. One gets a sense of intrigue and CIA covert ops or something along that line, though maybe that’s just me. I know I tend to read my paranoid white male authors in terms of conspiracies and connectedness, though there is enough talk of world politics and secret governance to make this very much the case here. Anyway, Jim is telling the woman from the Skylab event about the Chilean after they have sex in his hotel room (presumably) and she is falling asleep.
Choor imaginary country gets mixed in Jim’s thoughts with real nations of the world, and Jim comes to the conclusion that he is the Choor monster the princess seeks, though it feels less like an epiphany than one of those sleepy chains of thought that makes little sense in the light of day – or in this reader’s understanding. But here is the quote:
You are the He who belongs to that Mountain of Choor, but what’s a monster nowadays, and if—God!—angels have had to get into evolution and haven’t the power they once had to be absent and/ or give potentiality, why more and more monsters with or without new role models may also be deciding to join the human race.
This is mostly a synopsis of the chapter – and not even a confident one, at that – but it boils down to Jim as a journalist, musing on weather and teleportation, on his mother and grandmother and her stories, on his wife and kids just a little, all while he seeks out a Chilean operative and becomes involved with a science reporter at the Skylab non-launch.
Oh, and this woman mentions Grace Kimball in passing, saying she is a New Yorker who is becoming known in feminist circles. For some reason, that excited me more than the Choor monster part, I think because it shows off the connectedness, the web of relations spoken of earlier, and maybe this science reporter – whose name we never learn – may appear again later in regards to Grace.
The teleportation merger idea seems especially overripe a metaphor – is it meant to symbolize marriage or commitment? – but we are told repeatedly that this happens in the near future and present-day Jim is somehow a witness to this. That he never dreams only rules out that possibility, and I don’t know where any of that goes from here.
There is a description of the Apollo 17 crew, the men in white suits, which was both extremely jarring for me – it seems to pop out of nowhere and unexpectedly, which you get used to in this book but caught me by surprise here – and because I first thought it was about the Skylab astronauts but only after looking up the names of the astronauts did I realize what mission was being described. There is an image of one astronaut kissing his wife through his helmet that is particularly poetic and beautiful:
No kissing through the helmets, two wives not three—one wife, the Command Module pilot’s, did kiss her husband’s convex bubble and he the air inside, so their kiss met very firm, no tongues, poles invisible they are so familiar.
It seems like this is meant to be in contra-distinction to the near-future teleport merge to the moon – next time we go up there, people will connect! – but it strikes me as a more optimistic, more encouraging image than of bodies melded into one by force (and probably by surprise?). The space between them, the barriers that block, do not matter compared to how they feel about each other, the bonds they share. It may be the most hopeful part of this chapter.