“Love … is not a mystery. It is not poetry, it is not pure, it is not sacred. Nothing human is. Love is simply the time you spend loving. There are no other rules. That’s it.”
Once again I’ve been knocked sideways by an author and a novel, and once again I am reminded that I actually have not thought every thought I will ever think. It’s one thing to be out of ideas for the moment, and a far more disturbing thing to think that I’ve thought ’em all, that’s it, no new ideas coming my way. Inside my head, the same old same old. Then I read or hear or see something that is delightful, or profound, or terrifying, or comforting, and badda bing, badda boom, the brain is engaged once more.
Today’s brain supplement comes from Rebecca Kaufman, author of The Gunners, a novel about which I had heard nothing. I can’t remember how it came to me or how it moved to the top of my pile of books to be read immediately. The novel is oddly uneventful and understated; the author generously introduces us to her characters , all of whom are friends from a suburb of Buffalo, none of whom lives a particularly dramatic life, and then pretty much steps out of the way. I would describe Kauffman as an unobtrusive author, a quality that went unnoticed until I found myself unable to put the book down and unable to explain why I was hooked. Nothing wrong with obtrusive; an author’s distinctive voice is generally part of the impact of their work. Salinger is an obtrusive author; Hemingway, McCarthy, Foster Wallace, all distinctly present in every sentence.
I was entirely ready to puzzle through the distinctive impact of reading a compelling book by an author who remains indistinct when I got sidetracked by one of the very few reviews of The Gunners, this one written by Lily Meyer entitled, “the Gunners seems simple at first but keep reading”. I had and wondered if Ms. Meyer’s experience had been similar to mine.
Yes, her response to the novel echoed mine, but she quickly asserted that contemporary female writers rarely express emotion so bluntly, making reference to an article by Claire Faye Watkins entitled, “On Pandering”, in which Watkins argues that women are trained to write for men.
“I wanted to write something Cormac McCarthy would like, something Thomas Pynchon would come out of hiding to endorse, something David Foster Wallace would blurb from beyond the grave.”
Meyer also cites Lili Loofborouw’s work in The Virginia Quarterly in which Loofborouw argues that if a novel seems female, readers are unlikely to find it brilliant or noteworthy, and this was where the sidetrack comes in. Meyer’s point in the review is to admit that she undervalued Kauffman’s novel because the writing seemed simple, and that her ability to read critically had been undermined by a lifetime of reading with an ear to the voice of the male writer.
I hadn’t considered the distinctive voice to be a characteristic rarely found in work done by female authors, but it’s certainly an idea worth looking at more closely. My first impulse is to use my own experience as the universal lens, noting that I read a lot of contemporary fiction, almost exclusively the work of contemporary female authors, and, being male, what’s that say about me or them ?
There are two immediate observations to be made. The first is that I like authors who traffic in emotion and the second is that I like authors who make me think. David Foster Wallace is gone and I’ve been intimidated by Pynchon, but I am waiting for the next McCarthy and the next Kazuo Ishiguro, and the next Paul Beatty. I am also waiting for the next by Heidi Julavits, Margaret Atwood, Louise Erdrich, Eleanor Catton, Helen Oyeme, Donna Tart, and now, Rebecca Kauffman.
Here’s a moment in The Gunners that I will find instructive and comforting. Alice, an indelible, tough, flawed but irrepressible character, has arrived at a wedding having had to put her dog, Finn, down. Alice confesses that Finn was essentially a bad dog, stubborn, cranky, and, she has to admit, stupid, but, “when the time came, I held his tired gray face in my hands, and I said, You are the perfect dog. You are perfect. You can rest now. You were always the perfect dog.”
Simple. Love is the time we spend loving. Simple.