big brother

Big Brother by Lionel Shriver“At least for me it had been a revelation to see Travis, since it’s always a revelation to see images of your parents younger than you are now. Suddenly all the surety and authority you’ve accorded them falls away, and these glimpses of outsize icons as ordinary lost people with no road map, no special access to the truth or justice or to anything, really – well, such epiphanies are tender and sweet and frightening all at the same time.”

“Confronting a photograph of oneself is always a fraught business, for one’s own image doesn’t merely evoke the trivial fretting of “I had no idea my nose was so big”. This sounds idiotic, but every time I encounter a picture of myself I am shocked to have been seen. I do not, under ordinary circumstances, feel seen. When I walk down the street, my experience is of looking. Manifest to myself in the ethereal privacy of my head, I grow alarmed when presented with evidence of my public body. This is quite a different matter from whatever dissatisfaction I may harbor over the heft of my ass. It is more a matter of having an ass, any ass, that other people can ogle, criticize or grasp, and being staggered that to others this formation, whatever its shape, has something to do with me. Every once in a while I can connect a droll set of my facial muscles with the real, in-head experience of finding something funny and keeping the source of this amusement to myself. But in the main, I fail utterly to recognize myself, the me of me, in my photographs. I do not identify with the cropped, once naturally blond head of hair with a tendency to frizz; when I have again neglected to color the roots for three solid months, the camera chastises, but I know that walking around with gray down the center part feels exactly the same as when the gray is covered. I’m not convinced that my elemental self even has hair. I do not identify with my short fingers; my relationship to my hands is to what they do, and digital stubbiness has never impaired their competent folding of buttermilk biscuit dough. I do not feel like someone with a neck lately on the thick side, with its implications of low sophistication and loutishness; I grew up in LA, for heaven’s sake. About all I truly recognize in my photos is my clothes – and I will greet the image of a quilted jacket from 1989 with the joy of meeting a long-lost friend. The fact that my clothing has been visually available to other people, I do not find upsetting. The body is another matter. It is mine; I have found it useful; but it is an avatar.

Given that most people presumably contend with just this rattling disconnect between who they are to themselves and what they are to others, it’s perplexing why we’re still roundly obsessed with appearance. Having verified on our own accounts the feeble link between the who and the what, you’d think that from the age of three we’d have learned to look straight through the avatar as we do through a pane of glass.”

Lionel Shriver – Big Brother

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

best book i read in 2011

“You were ambitious – for your life, what is was like when you woke up in the morning, and not for some attainment. Like most people who did not answer a particular calling from an early age, you placed work beside yourself; any occupation would fill up your day but not your heart.”

“Besides, good life doesn’t knock on the door. Joy is a job.”

“We gorged on fruit and sorbet and splashed immoderate second shots of clear, heady framboise, whooping at each other’s top-this tales in the orgy of eternal adolescence characteristic of the childless in middle-age.”

“How lucky we are, when we’re spared what we think we want! ”

“Nothing is interesting if you are not interested.”

“She had announced at our introduction in September that she “simply loves children”, a declaration of which i am eternally dubious. From young women like Miss Fabricant, with a blunt snub of a nose like a Charlotte potato and hips like Idahos, the infeasible assertion seems to decode “I want to get married“. Myself, after having not a child but this particular one, i couldn’t see how anyone could claim to love children in the generic anymore that anyone could credibly claim to love people in a sufficiently sweeping sense as to embrace Pol Pot, Don Rickles, and an upstairs neighbor who does 2000 jumping jacks at three in the morning.”

“Childless, I’d perceived baby crying as a pretty undifferentiated affair. It was loud; it was not so loud. But in motherhood I developed an ear. There’s the wail of inarticulate need, what is effectively a child’s first groping after language, for sounds that mean wet or food or pin. There’s the shriek of terror – that no one is here and that there may never be anyone here again. There’s that lassitudinous wah-wah, not unlike the call to mosque in the Middle East or improvisational song; this is creative crying, fun crying, from babies who, while not especially unhappy, have failed to register that we like to constrain weeping to conditions of distress. Perhaps saddest of all is the muted, habitual mewl of a baby who may be perfectly miserable but who, whether through neglect or prescience, no longer anticipates reprieve – who in infancy has already become reconciled to the idea that to live is to suffer.”

Lionel Shriver – We Need to Talk About Kevin