A classic American meal has a discernible beginning, middle and end — a story arc, to put it in Hollywood terms. What happens to that arc when everyone is scrambling to sample everything on the table? The meal becomes a jumble; too many characters, too many conflicted motives, too many fractured moments — basically, Robert Altman at his worst.
Perhaps I am overly sensitive about pacing because, yes, I am the slowest eater I have ever met. From my vantage, a shared meal means sitting by and idly chewing, while the food on the table vanishes like a time-lapse nature video of an ant colony devouring a dead bird.
Can a book solve your problems? Yes, if one of your problems is that you wish to read a book. Or if another one of your problems is that you would like to learn about a certain subject. If your problem can be expressed as “I would like to feel X type of feeling,” a book perhaps can help, but here complications start to dawn. And if the problem is “I would like to be X type of person,” the situation grows thornier still. Although the experience of reading involves fulfilling needs you didn’t know you had, literature—like most things that are free—reacts poorly to being instrumentalized.
One morning about a year ago I was sleeping on the sofa in my parents’ apartment when I was woken by the sound of my father dying in the next room.
At first I couldn’t tell what the noise was, or even locate where it was coming from. It was a ragged, scraping sound, like metal being pulled through tightly-packed glass. Then it shifted: like someone breathing in a viscous liquid in greedy gulps, aspirating yogurt. When I realized the noises were coming from my father’s throat, I froze.
Accept your emotions. Feel them bluntly, plainly. Allow yourself to flinch. There isn't a better way forward. Not in life, and not, I suspect, on the page.
Blake Morrison’s new book is a novel about the piecing together of a poetry collection, which is then printed in full at the end. Reading it was, I confess, a perplexing experience: something like watching Lewis Hamilton ride a bicycle round Silverstone for innumerable reconnaissance laps just so as to be prepared when he finally climbs into his race car and risks his life at 200mph on the edges of adhesion and daring.