Bennett takes care not to aggrandize her work or underplay the obstacles to further progress. Yet the gains so far for Christian and other patients give Bennett guarded hope that this basic gene-replacement approach might work for other forms of blindness. She and others believe that variations on her technique might soon help doctors find and fix similar genetic defects early enough—perhaps even in utero—to reverse or prevent eye damage.
Within roughly the past decade, efforts in two other areas, stem cells and biomedical, or “bionic,” implants, have also given at least some sight to people previously sightless. Stem cells—cells in early stages of development, before they differentiate into the building blocks of eyes, brains, arms, and legs—show increasing promise to replace or revive the failing retinal cells that underlie many causes of blindness. And the first generation of bionic retinas—microchips that replace failed retinal cells by collecting or amplifying light—is bringing a low-resolution version of sight to people who for years saw nothing.
These advances encourage talk of something unthinkable just 10 or 20 years ago: ending human blindness, and soon.
I’d recently read an interview with James Salter in which he mentioned that sex and death, as primary themes, were reasons the New Yorker had rejected his, and his fellow writers’, stories. But aren’t they essential human topics, I asked Pete, aren’t they critical to short fiction? They’re also the trickiest to get right, Pete noted, and then rolled out a pithy Alice Munro quote. When asked why so much of her work was about these two subjects, she replied, “Why wouldn’t it be? It’s all that matters.”
The punctuation mark of the ellipsis is perhaps the most unusual mark in the English language, for punctuation marks are designed to convey meaning by indicating relationships between ideas, but the ellipsis does the exact opposite. It simply indicates that something has been omitted. Sometimes, this omission is poignant, as in J. Alfred Prufrock’s lament “I grow old...I grow old…” which invites the reader to imagine what has happened to the him in the spaces between him growing old. Sometimes, it is simply a placeholder, as happens when a fellow messager is typing on the other end of the line. (Personally, my favorite example of the ellipsis is Seinfeld’s infamous “yada yada yada,” but I digress.)
Dense, complex, thought-provoking, it manages to be at once a fairytale and a philosophical treatise, high-octane thriller and literary interrogation. Like the dreams that haunt Bonnie’s night-times, it holds its secrets close, and repays careful rereading. The end of the novel, abrupt and death-haunted, feels as neat and tight as a key in a lock, and sheds light on the mysteries that have gone before. Schubert would be proud.
Now maybe you’re sitting there thinking that I’m taking all this a little too sensitively, that probably my best course is to accept the loss of a handful of books as the necessary flotsam and jetsam of a life lived with friends and acquaintances around to borrow my books in the first place. To this, I have a few responses.