Another interlude chapter, relatively brief but allusive to the point of maddening. I think that rereading this book will be much more rewarding than reading it the first time, which I’m doing here, because the buried cues and sleight-of-hand references will be more familiar, more expected, and will accrue to form a more recognizable world with a clear cast of characters. As it stands, right now I feel like I’m at a party where I don’t know anyone but have to rapidly make sense of who each person is and how they know the other partygoers, lest I be made to feel inattentive and boorish.
At any rate, this chapter seems to be about the Chilean and his wife Clara. The only actual name given is Amy, the research girl, who is a complete stranger to me. Also, alive forgotten what the Chilean’s name is supposed to be, just that it was very Anglo in Jim Mayn’s chapter and there is a passage in this chapter that references a name that sounds that way. Jim himself is mentioned, but only as a journalist who is considered dangerous by the Cuban friend that the Chilean visited in prison this afternoon.
So the setup is this: the Chilean is at his home, an apartment, reading a letter handed to him by a prisoner he visits, his Cuban friend. The Chilean is bald, we discover, and has adult children far away, in the south – presumably Chile. He has earplugs on, there is an opera playing on the television, and his doctor has a famous opera singer for a client – which again is a callback. His wife places her gloved hand on his bald head and they talk comfortingly to each other, though he knows through a common friend that she was checking out an apartment building, which we know is the one where Grace Kimball lives and which they will move into, presumably.
Beyond that, we learn the Chilean works as a researcher or statistician for a foundation of some sort, is concerned with AI – which at first is taken as American Intereference but may refer more to Artificial Intelligence. Towards the end of the chapter, his wife is going to say “division of labor” but it becomes more playful, and it makes me wonder if they were at the party where that phrase was bandied about.
What matters here is the comfort she provides him, the bond they share which feels more lived-in and assured than the couple in the unknown sound chapter. Given the three unknown chapters to date, we see three very different couples interacting in very familiar, perhaps even quotidian, ways, and the manner in which each is bonded. From that compare-and-contrast vantage point, we get a sense of relationships taking on different kinds of negotiation and understanding – the beatific trauma and later forgiveness of division of labor unknown, the unsteady rapprochement of new lovers in the unknown sound, and now the comfort and assurance of this chapter. This couple seems more like an older married couple without the baked-in resentment of the division of labor unknown couple: this may come from both meeting in later parts of their life (he has adult children, after all) or because both are immigrants in the United States and thus sharing in this struggle to survive and assimilate in a foreign land.
The style from these three unknown chapters is distinct from others, more distant in tone and betraying less of the personality of the characters in focus. The writing in general all have a kind of looping allusiveness to them, repeating key motifs and imagery in an almost poetic fashion, almost like a Homeric description meant to remind us of what we have to keep an eye out for and why it is important to us. But Jim Mayn’s chapter is very grounded and straightforward, concerned with memories but also with his work as a journalist. Grace Kimball indulges in more hep jive argot to reflect the seventies hipsters vernacular. The angel breathing chapter has an archness and know-it-all sass, a raconteur who may also be omniscient and seeing patterns we can’t find.
Compared to these, the unknown chapters feel much more bare-bones stylistically, and up to now more focused on a particular time and place and situation (only this one spins out into the broader narrative), feeling like interludes cut off from the rest of the world but also a little less interesting and a little more maddening as a result. I don’t know, this chapter doesn’t work as well for me as a piece of writing, as prose, perhaps because it does try to combine the isolation of earlier unknown chapters with the bigger canvas of the larger chapters, and in doing so loses its effectiveness.
I see the next chapter is an angel breathing one, so it’s time to buckle myself in, at least.