Yet the text is also constructed and compacted like a poem, delicate and precise. A person wants to “sing” to the impending danger, but also to abide by the other’s injunction to avoid figurative language. Instead of using a metaphor, she becomes a metaphor: “My arms the trees.” Now Hempel’s valedictory text, titled “Sing to It,” itself saturated in these lovely figures of speech, becomes the song that she would have sung, looping back on itself like one. And a further subtlety: when the man asked for no more metaphors, he said that nothing is like anything else, but when the narrator echoes those words the reason given is that “no one is like anyone else.” This is not a story about death, that distinguished thing; it is an elegy for an irreducible person. All of this in little more than a hundred words.
The questions raised by human interdependence are irresolvable. Trying to understand them requires embracing a kind of emotional and intellectual lawlessness, and getting to practice that lawlessness by observing a contained fictional environment — in collaboration with other observers of that environment — gives us a low-stakes but satisfying opportunity to examine the weirdest, most vulnerable parts of our lived reality. There are mysteries you can solve, and those that keep you wondering forever.
If not for running, I might not be alive today. I mean this quite literally. On more than one occasion, I have successfully escaped from someone who was chasing me on foot with a knife. But running has saved me in a different way, too, giving me the strength I needed to support the person I love through a long ordeal that challenged us both to the point of breaking.
You see, the person who chased me with a knife, more than once, was my wife.
More than 400 miles away, his staff and customers celebrated the news with a party at the restaurant. The event was broadcast from a television placed in the middle of the room. But 22 days after the celebration, García, a 42-year-old chef recognized by Michelin for the way he “[reformulates] the Andalusian cuisine in a contemporary key,” met with his team to break some news: he had decided to shut down his restaurant in 10 months. The 2019 season would be Dani García’s last, in what will be the shortest triple-Michelin-star period for a restaurant in the world.
“Once you have reached this point, it’s time to think carefully, what’s there to come?” García told his team in the meeting room, where they usually gathered to discuss recipes and other matters related to the restaurant’s daily routine. The idea had been lurking in his mind for the last three years, and although he says that he feels great respect for Michelin (he calls getting three stars “the best thing that has ever happened to my career”), he didn’t think he could continue to devote the focus required to maintain a three-Michelin-starred restaurant.
This time-defying preservation of selves, this dream of plenitude without loss, is like a snow globe from heaven, a vision of Eden before the expulsion. Mathematically demonstrable but emotionally impossible, it’s dangled just in front of us like a bauble we can’t have but can’t stop reaching for. Except that Hustvedt finds a way to give it to us. I won’t tell you how, but I will say that the ending manages to be quite moving and unconvincing at the same time, a recapitulation of the tonal contradiction that pervades this sometimes incisive, sometimes sentimental novel, or memoir, or whatever we decide to call it.
Yet she’s such a generous writer. The people and the ideas in “The Old Drift,” like dervishes, are set whirling. When that whirling stops, you can hear the mosquitoes again. They’re still out there.
They sound like tiny drones. They sound like dread.