Solitude exaggerates everything—beauty, danger, terror, calm. Solitude is in effect, a search for intimacy, a search for ourselves. I think of Virginia Woolf and the legacy of Shakespeare’s Sister, a place of equality. My husband and I writing in our rooms, linked by one corridor. The knowledge that another person works at a desk with the door closed, trying to create this mad thing called a book, and another person not far away is doing exactly the same thing. It is in fact, a kind of unity, of being alone together, and the best representation I’ve found of this is when we go out on the beach with our dogs, which is something Grace and Lucia do too. These dogs occupy the margin between the domestic and the wild, they aren’t pets but they are fiercely territorial and mostly loyal. When we tear out on the beach with them there’s so much joy, they raise their heads to the sky and howl, and we howl with them too. How it is a sound that joins us to each other and returns us to the world.
Without accepting that we might fail, that we might end up regretting what we have done, we wouldn’t be able to achieve any of these things. There is something richer and more uplifting in recognising this, rather than living our lives in the secure but impotent realm where trying is all that matters.
I pictured the musicians, dressed in their black suits and dresses, playing to the emptiness of a grand theater, while the rest of us gathered around our laptops — like the families, hungry for reassurance, who listened to F.D.R.’s fireside chats during the Great Depression. Another viewer thought of a different historical analogue: the musicians on the Titanic who kept playing music for the ship’s passengers even as it sank. “Getting big ‘Gentlemen, it has been a privilege’ vibes,” he wrote in the chat box that accompanied the video. “Thanks for this.”
In fact, the performance wasn’t to an empty theater, or technically live at all — it was a livestream of a concert filmed the previous September. Alexander White, the symphony’s associate principal trumpet and chairman of the musicians’ labor organization, told me that the idea of continuing performances without audiences, which was under consideration just two days earlier, evaporated the day before the livestream. The symphony had been rehearsing Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 for its upcoming shows when the governor’s news conference announcing regulations on group gatherings began. “We realized the orchestra couldn’t actually safely be together,” White said. As a brass player, he was particularly aware of all the breath and moisture that regularly moves through a crowd of musicians. For the first time White could remember, everyone stopped playing mid-rehearsal, packed up and left.
It used to be that nobody ever called me. I’d get lonely notices on my phone, reading, “Last week you had one minute and twelve seconds of screen time.” Now, though, with the coronavirus pandemic, I’m Mr. Popular. The first person I usually hear from is my sister Lisa, who will start with an update from her local Costco, in Winston-Salem. “They announced a new delivery of toilet paper, but it was gone by the time Bob and I got there.”
In New York, my sister Amy came for dinner and showed me a Rolling Stone photo essay on shoppers hoarding at superstores. Because everything’s sold in such great quantities, the carts look miniature.
“Gun sales have gone up, as well,” Hugh said.
Amy put her phone away. “So people can protect their toilet paper.”
Early blurbs have dubbed The City We Became a "love letter to New York" and it is, but that almost doesn't do what Jemisin accomplishes here justice. It is a love letter, a celebration and an expression of hope and belief that a city and its people can and will stand up to darkness, will stand up to fear, and will, when called to, stand up for each other.
Mandel's writing shines throughout the book, just as it did in Station Eleven. She's not a showy writer, but an unerringly graceful one, and she treats her characters with compassion but not pity. The Glass Hotel is a masterpiece, just as good — if not better — than its predecessor. It's a stunning look at how people react to disasters, both small and large, and the temptation that some have to give up when faced with tragedy. As she writes, "The problem with dropping out of the world is that the world moves on without you."