Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Re-Reading Lynne Sharon Schwartz, Disturbances in the Field

This is a book I first read years ago, I think in the 1990s? I've re-read it every so often. (In fact there is a bookmark in it of one of the kid's early drawings, dated 2003.) Anyway, I wanted to share this passage:

I watched Victor Rowe. In his light eyes was the most critical expression I had ever seen. Anyone who scanned the world that way, I thought, must be the most clever, the most supercilious. And if he knew how striking he was, it would be so much the worse. He was tall and rangy and moved with the coordinated, weird grace of a giraffe. 

This is the man she will marry, but the book is not about romance or any sort of love affair -- though she and Victor do seem to love each other. She's a pianist and he's an artist and they have four children and live in Manhattan in the 1980s, and it's about their lives in college and their lives in the 1960s and 1970s, and their friends and families and one terrible event that smashes into that life. It's not about the terrible event, either, exactly, it's about the life that collides with that event. Oh, and Greek philosophy. It's also about Greek philosophy.

I was in graduate school when I read this book, and just after I finished it I saw it on the desk of a fellow grad student. "Oh, I love that book," I said (which parenthetically is the worst thing you can say about any book if you are a graduate student in English).

"Did you," she said. "I got a little bored with all the philosophy."

I was a young grad student and had no rebuttal. What I should have said was, but the philosophy is the most essential part of the book! I should have said, but what are you reading it for, then? The fucking daily life in Manhattan?

(To be clear: I love the daily life in Manhattan part. 1960 through 1980 in New York was such a different world, this might as well be science fiction.)

What I did say was, "That was my favorite part."

We stared at each other as though across an abyss. I don't know what became of her; I don't even remember her name. I think maybe she was a translator? Or a New Critic. Who knows.

Bored with all the philosophy indeed.

Anyway, you should definitely read Disturbances in the Field, though I haven't like any other of Schwartz's books nearly as much. 

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