But one evening (this sounds like a fairy tale or an improbable upsurge of romanticism in the story), Oscar passes Kings College Chapel on the way home from work. There is an open-to-the-public performance of evensong taking place. Entranced by the singing and the extraordinary eloquence of the organ, Oscar goes in to listen. Oscar is an atheist but he is drawn in by the experience.
What we’re up against is Alphaville, the deconstruction of the human which can’t be accomplished unless our everyday literary culture is dismantled first. That’s a world where no one can ask why only because. Where there can be no rebellion and words are systematically banned from the dictionary because they would encourage independent ideas.
From my prejudiced POV, this wicked little atom of a collection is the perfect remedy for anyone, like myself, who sometimes suffers from the very stale beer of American realism. That sort of placid realism, which as Lionel Trilling has observed, doesn’t think of our ideas as part of reality…consigning our fantasy lives to some netherworld…banning our interior dreams and nightmares from the sacred precincts of fiction.
It’s brilliant sleight-of-hand by Gardam who keeps her fictional cake while eating it. She has a character who’s a social misfit, impractical for all her vaunted practicality and self-reliance, but still makes her a daughter-in-law via role playing. And it’s not unkind, it’s one the the many surreal but touching scenes in the book. It seems to scream, man, this is weird, only no one says it is, which is ideal.
It’s like friendship really is if we could live out several dimensions of it at once. And do you really need to have the finished version? I’d rather have three or four versions of the same story without an ending than one story with a decisive conclusion. Love the mess.