post-birthday worlds

shriver“Yet Irina had once tucked away, she wasn’t sure when or why, that happiness is almost definitionally a condition of which you are not aware at the time. To inhabit your own contentment is to be wholly present, with no orbiting satellite to take clinical readings of the state of the planet. Conventionally, you grow conscious of happiness at the very point that it begins to elude you. When not misused to talk yourself into something – when not a lie – the h-word is a classification applied in retrospect. It is a bracketing assessment, a label only decisively pasted onto an era once it is over.”

“Now, bitterly, with one sweep of the front door, the compassion was spent. To the degree that Lawrence’s face was familiar, it was killingly so – as if she had been gradually getting to know him for over nine years and then, bang, he was known. She’d been handed her diploma. There were no more surprises – or only this last surprise, that there were no more surprises. To torture herself, Irina kept looking, and looking, at Lawrence’s face, like turning the key in an ignition several times before resigning herself that the battery was dead.”

“And Lawrence was afraid of the main thing. He had a tendency to talk feverishly all around the main thing, as if bundling it with twine. Presumably if he talked in circles around the main thing for long enough it would lie there, vanquished, panting on its side, like a roped steer.”

“Desire was its own reward, and a rarer luxury than you’d think.”

“If in some regards he was a total stranger, he was determined to remain one. Sexual fantasy was by its nature undignified, and – tragically – it was more important to Lawrence to be respected than to be known.”

“Irina was beginning to wonder if as a rule of thumb you shouldn’t so much look to marry your perfect fuck as your perfect dance partner – although there was no harm in marrying both.”

“We’ve known him for years. Is that the way it’s going to be with me? Suddenly that’s it, do svidanya, because you’ve said all you’ve got to say?” Irina had an anguished apprehension that this was indeed what happened to some couples, and that the experience of simply running out of script could come upon you with no warning.

“Tatyana had embraced domesticity with the same extremity as she had ballet. She was eternally quilting, canning, baking, upholstering and knitting sweaters that nobody needed. Her officious conduct of motherhood gave off that whiff of defensive self-righteousness characteristic of contemporary stay-at-home moms. She was stifling, fussy and overprotective, for if children were to redeem her existence, they would redeem it with a vengeance.”

“Thus it was back to adult conversation. Irina asked Dmitri about his construction business and didn’t care, Tatyana asked Irina about her illustrations and didn’t care, Raisa asked the children about their schoolwork and didn’t care, and Lawrence, stuck in the corner with Tatyana, was ultimately reduced to asking more questions about her bathroom.”

“Where Hendry had mastery, O’Sullivan had inspiration; where Hendry went at the game like a job, O’Sullivan made it an art. Like a good schoolboy, Hendry seemed to understand the nature of geometry; like a riveting evangelical, O’Sullivan seemed to understand the nature of the universe. Hendry was all knowledge, O’Sullivan all instinct, and – however inexplicably – intuition is more captivating than intelligence every time.”

“I’ve sometimes wondered whether it really matters all that much, whom you chose to live with, or marry”, she mused. “After all, there’s something wrong with everybody, isn’t there? Ultimately, we all settle.”

“She loved him, but that wasn’t good enough. The word love was required to cover such a range of emotions that it almost meant nothing at all. Since the love we distill for each beloved conforms to such a specific, rarefied recipe, with varying soupcons of resentment, pity, or lust, and sometimes even pinches of dislike, you really needed as many different words for the feeling as there were people whom you cared for in your life.”

Lionel Shriver – The Post-Birthday World


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