As you may know, my husband Robin Williams had the little-known but deadly Lewy body disease (LBD). He died from suicide in 2014 at the end of an intense, confusing, and relatively swift persecution at the hand of this disease's symptoms and pathology. He was not alone in his traumatic experience with this neurologic disease. As you may know, almost 1.5 million nationwide are suffering similarly right now.
Although not alone, his case was extreme. Not until the coroner's report, 3 months after his death, would I learn that it was diffuse LBD that took him. All 4 of the doctors I met with afterwards and who had reviewed his records indicated his was one of the worst pathologies they had seen. He had about 40% loss of dopamine neurons and almost no neurons were free of Lewy bodies throughout the entire brain and brainstem.
What is this connection between odd constructions and ghosts? Perhaps it’s because these strange buildings defy common sense and time-honed principles, creating in us a sense of unease that’s hard to name. The principles of architecture—the ones so readily abused by McMansions—didn’t appear overnight; they emerged from centuries of use and tradition. They reflect how we move through houses and how we are most comfortable in them. They maximize the kinds of spaces where we feel most at home, organized around layouts that facilitate ease of use and movement.
In time they become second nature: You don’t expect a front door to open into a bedroom or to find a kitchen on the second floor—even though, technically, there’s nothing stopping a builder from laying out a house in such a way. So when a space is off in subtle ways, when it violates these ergonomic principles we long ago internalized, we often sense it without even realizing it. You may walk into a room where a ceiling fan is off-center, or a fireplace is on the wrong wall, and not immediately identify what’s wrong, yet you still feel the imbalance in the room.
Szalay’s subject is the loss of prestige afforded a certain kind of European manhood, the spuriousness of its foundations and the ease with which it is threatened. If manhood is an arena of struggle in the midst of civilization — something like that stadium the Danish journalist drives past — the sympathy of these stories lies firmly with the bull. The novel’s characteristic mood is a kind of lambent melancholy, shot through with dark, sometimes savage humor.