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320 pages, Hardcover
First published January 5, 2016
“It’s not a memoir, but it’s fiction with a lot of memory in it.”
The epigraph — “How accidentally a fate is made . . . or how accidental it all may seem when it is inescapable” — comes from “The Human Stain.” Philip Roth Why that passage?
“I’ve always been fascinated by art and life with how random circumstances can direct our paths. These characters make some pretty reckless choices when they’re young and have to watch the consequences of those choices roll out from there. But when we come to the end of their story, we discover that this was the only way it was ever going to be — all of this had to happen. I thought that line elegantly captured that conundrum.” (see below author essay link)
We were coming of age in the late seventies, at the sweaty, nauseous, split-headed peak of the hangover between Watergate and “Morning in America.” For nearly a decade, our parents and their peers had watched horrified as the far-flung corners of the world burst into flames on their brand-new, first-ever color TVs.
I whispered his name. I was sure that I had missed him in the darkness, or that he had merely stepped from my field of vision. Lifting my head, I looked up and down and sideways. I howled his name and listened to it echo back to me from across the gap. I cried out again and again until, panting, I put my head back to the rock, listening to the echoes of my cries trickling off into silence.
I saw every victory and every failure, all up to the final, crushing blow that had left him bound to the prison of his ruined mind. What I saw – what I sensed but could not yet comprehend – was the arc of a life that was not just the rise and fall of a small, forgettable man, but the story of the American Century: its booms and busts, its catastrophes and regenerations, its fortunes built up from sweat and moxie only to be dashed by bad luck and bad choices, its false hopes and promises broken by the plain fact that we are all mere antic clay, bedeviled by the mystery that animates us.
I wondered whether, at that very moment, Leigh Bowman sat huddling in the corner of some padded cell, dressed in a straitjacket, dosed up to her eyeballs with tranquilizers, swimming toward the receding dream of another life.
At some point, every boy feels the urge to lash out at something, to be cruel and violent, to curse the world for its frail humanity. But only a few have the will – be it born of courage or recklessness, folly or sublime wisdom – to act and, by their action, transform themselves. They will pay for their courage, of course; the world does not treat its others lightly. But so will the rest of us – the ones who love them – haunted as we are by our envy of their bright, burning beauty, which we can bear neither to look at nor to turn away from.