For the sick person, communicating—with the doctor or with friends and family desperate to help —becomes its own comfort. So, perhaps, does writing down some document of the body’s illnesses, a kind of permanence of experience when so much else seems to be resistant to meaning or treatment. Acceptance, a way of living with unending suffering, resists narrative closure and medical diagnosis. Reading accounts of chronic illness allows us to embrace the ambiguity of the body and our experiences within it. Writing a book about being sick allows authors to leave their isolation, and allows readers to take a common human condition seriously, accepting it as one of literature’s great themes.
When I look at my mother, I see her age, her strain, and her worry written in the lines on her face. My mother does not go to the doctor for illness or prevention. Like many working-class families, we’ve never had much for health insurance. The only prescription I’ve known her to take is Celexa, which she has taken in secret each day for years. Silence, like madness, runs rampant in our family.
This is the legacy of women I come from—a legacy tied to gender, to class, to male violence and the threat thereof, poor women with too many children and not enough food and too much hurting and hating, women too afraid to say anything of their pain or their terror. Women so worried, so afraid, their bodies and minds react. Women bound by silence not to speak of the things that dart around their brains late at night, instead letting them settle in dark corners, where they lurk for a lifetime.
In the world’s most famous thought experiment, physicist Erwin Schrödinger described how a cat in a box could be in an uncertain predicament. The peculiar rules of quantum theory meant that it could be both dead and alive, until the box was opened and the cat’s state measured. Now, two physicists have devised a modern version of the paradox by replacing the cat with a physicist doing experiments — with shocking implications.
Quantum theory has a long history of thought experiments, and in most cases these are used to point to weaknesses in various interpretations of quantum mechanics. But the latest version, which involves multiple players, is unusual: it shows that if the standard interpretation of quantum mechanics is correct, then different experimenters can reach opposite conclusions about what the physicist in the box has measured. This means that quantum theory contradicts itself.
The Quinault, together with federal agencies including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Fish and Wildlife Service, and National Park Service, are restoring the river—and the Quinault's long-term ecological knowledge of river patterns is providing vital data to the recovery project.
This sort of data has become increasingly valuable to scientific research. For example, when scientists discovered the Quinault and other tribes in western Washington return salmon bones to the rivers from which they're fished, they found that fish carcasses release nitrogen into the water, according to Quinault tribal biologist Joe Schumacher, which aids in the stream's health. Now, biologists plant salmon bones in streams that are being prepared for the reintroduction of the fish.
But Native Americans are also wary of disclosing traditional knowledge, because doing so risks opening a door to exploitation that can undermine tribal values, harm their resources, or fail to provide benefits in return, says Preston Hardison, a policy analyst in the Tulalip Tribes Department of Natural Resources, which oversees traditional knowledge guidelines in western Washington.
Lepore is at her best when she illuminates these conflicts in both thought and action. “A nation born in revolution will forever struggle against chaos,” she concludes. “A nation born in contradiction, liberty in a land of slavery, sovereignty in a land of conquest, will fight, forever, over the meaning of its history.” The writers who have understood the country’s history best have always sought to capture how Americans have wrestled with these inescapable, opposing forces. Or, as Zadie Smith wrote in her obituary of Philip Roth, whose sensibility about the past matches Lepore’s, “He always wanted to know America, in its beauty and its utter brutality, and to see it in the round: the noble ideals, the bloody reality.”
Despite its apparent traditionalism, the book itself resists the conventions of steadily rising action or dénouement. Its story, held between the arbitrary-seeming brackets of electoral victory and pop-star overdose, is inchoate, and beguilingly so: a series of meetings and partings, a fluctuation of perceptions, emotions, and desires. Characters attempt to transcend their slumps in various ways: Damian wills himself into an infatuation with Melissa; Michael pursues an affair with his secretary. These choices create mini-ruptures, but they don’t produce the novel’s most heightened moments, which are to be found, instead, in passages of exceptionally sensitive writing.