So I have finished the two books I purchased or, rather, described purchasing, in an earlier episode of this blog. I did not realize, at that time, that it was appropriate to follow up Madame Bovary with Play It As It Lays. They are along the same continuum. Maria and Emma reflect upon each other as characters. I would say that Joan Didion made me like Emma Bovary more than I did when I read her. I would say that Flaubert made me like Maria less. Is it the difference between Flaubert's time and Didion's? Between their genders? Or is it the fact that in the concluding pages of the book, the action is Emma's, while the inaction is Maria's?
It's good to know that the human heart continues to hurt in the same way no matter when or where. I'm not sure why I think so, but it makes me feel better. There is no such thing as progress, just change. And there is company, lots and lots of company, for all of us. And some of that company is really crazy and a little stupid and a lot reckless and this is why I try to live my life as a rational person and not a character in a novel. Sometimes it's fun (and even useful) to be the character in the novel, but most of the time I prefer not to drive to Vegas after doing too many drugs and having too much empty sex.
Anyway. I will interrupt this train of thought to say that I really liked the following few lines, in which Didion manages to reference both Plato and The Godfather:
"BZ shrugged. 'I think of him more as a philosopher king. He told me once he understood the whole meaning of life, it came to him in a blinding flash one time when he almost died on the table at Cedars.'
"Larry Kulik's not going to die at Cedars. Larry Kulik's going to die in a barber chair.'"
And there's a line of dialog I plan to steal and use as needed in my daily life: "I hear you had a rather baroque morning after."
Just in case you were wondering, Bridget, my toes ached specifically on page 171, in the description of Hoover Dam: "All day she was faint with vertigo, sunk in a world where great power grids converged, throbbing lines plunged finally into the shallow canyon below the dam's face, elevators like coffins dropped into the bowels of the earth itself. With a guide and a handful of children Maria walked through the chambers, stared at the turbines in the vast glittering gallery, at the deep still water with the hidden intakes sucking all the while, even as she watched; clung to the railings, leaned out, stood finally on a platform over the pipe that carried the river beneath the dam. The platform quivered." I can understand why you're a fan, Bridget, and why you write the way you do about all of the different Californias and the Californians who live in them.
Okay, so I've read his bookshelf now and I wasn't with him that long and he didn't die, but loss is loss is loss and so, to conclude, a few final lines from The Year of Magical Thinking:
"I have never written pieces fluently but this one seemed to be taking even longer than usual: I realized at some point that I was unwilling to finish it, because there was no one to read it."
"In fact the apprehension that our life together will decreasingly be the center of my every day seemed today on Lexington Avenue so distinct a betrayal that I lost all sense of oncoming traffic."
Thanks to those of you who held my hand while I crossed the street.