November 17, 2008

Selections...

From Joseph O'Neill's novel "Netherland":

I traveled in a rented car up the Saw Mill and Taconic parkways. My preparatory examination of the road map had turned up such place-names as Yonkers, Cortlandt, Verplanck, and, of course, Peekskill; and set against these Dutch places, in my mind, were the likes of Mohegan, Chappaqua, Ossining, Mohansic, for as I drove north through thickly wooded hills I superimposed on the landscape regressive images of Netherlanders and Indians, images arising not from mature historical reflection but from a child’s irresponsibly cinematic sense of things, leading me to picture a bonneted girl in an ankle-length dress waiting in a log cabin for Sinterklaas, and redskins pushing through ferns, and little graveyards filled with Dutch names, and wolves and deer and bears in the forest, and skaters on a natural rink, and slaves singing in Dutch.
Another (WARNING - SPOILER ALERT):
I conceived of myself no longer as the idiomatic man who stands between the rock and the hard place but as the more happily placed idiomatic man who can take it or leave it: “it,” here, being my marriage...

(later)

It was not the case that I’d heroically bowled her over (my hope) or that she’d tragically decided to settle for a reliable man (my fear). She had stayed married to me, she stated in the presence of Juliet Schwarz, because she felt a responsibility to see me through life, and the responsibility felt like a happy one. Juliet turned her head. “Hans?” I couldn’t speak. My wife’s words had overwhelmed me. She had put into words—indeed into reality—exactly how I felt. “Yes,” I said. “Same here.” Though not exactly the same, I thought, stepping down from my stepladder and squinting at my handiwork. Rachel saw our reunion as a continuation. I felt differently: that she and I had gone our separate ways and subsequently had fallen for third parties to whom, fortuitously, we were already married.
And...:
I said, “There’s a difference between grandiosity and thinking big.” I might as well have punched him on the nose, because for the only time in our acquaintance he looked at me with hurt surprise. He began to say something and decided against it. I could see what had happened. I had knocked him off his pedestal. I had called into question his exercise of the New Yorker’s ultimate privilege: of holding yourself out in a way that, back home, would be taken as a misrepresentation....

"We’re the romantic sex, you know,” he said, fighting a burp. “Men. We’re interested in passion, glory. Women,” Chuck declared with a finger in the air, “are responsible for the survival of the world; men are responsible for its glories.”
One more...
The blackout gave rise to an outbreak of civic responsibility. From the Bronx to Staten Island, citizens appointed themselves traffic cops, gave rides to strangers, housed and fed the stranded. It also transpired that the upheaval provoked a huge number of romantic encounters, a collective surge of passion not seen, I read somewhere, since the “we’re-all-going-to-die sex” in which, apparently, everybody had indulged in the second half of September two years previously—an analysis I found a little hard to accept, since it was my understanding that all sex, indeed all human activity, fell into this category.

...

He nattered about his salmon-fishing vacations in Ireland, which by coincidence had been precisely the pastime of my Dutch former dentist and led me to wonder if there was a connection between angling and tinkering with teeth. Certainly he seemed as happy as a fisher, this New York practitioner, and why not? One of the great consolations of work must be its abbreviation of the world’s area, and it follows that it must be especially consoling to have one’s field of vision reduced to the space of a mouth.

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