I’m reading Incendiary by Chris Cleave. Within a page, I was pulled in and even as I wonder where the book is taking me, I know I’m in good hands.
And that is it. Despite the type of novel I read, I need to know that I am in good hands. Much like with dear friends, I invest when I’m reading. I pay attention. I may not remember the details, but I remember how you felt when you told me a story, and I know how the character would act or not act depending on a given situation.
It’s rare that a friend does something and I think, “Well, that’s surprising.” We’re rather predictable characters, the human race. A list of events happen and we are drawn to a conclusion, good, bad or indifferent. If that pull isn’t there, the story isn’t worth reading. It goes off the rails. The emotional integrity is lost.
Today as I sat on the train in a loud car (as opposed to the “Quiet” cars, the closest thing I’ve seen to a police state), two women got into an argument. The same people sit in the same car and as these two got into it, the first, an older woman with short blonde hair, smug and defiant, made a remark to the two sitting behind her. She and her friend have sat behind me in the past, and I think her comment was to the woman behind, to keep it down. It surprised me as she and her friend are loud in their own personal talk. I know as I’ve given up sleep on numerous occasions and been forced to listen to their sagas, overdramatic and full of self-congratulations.
She made a comment, and the woman behind her, another loud woman but of the hispanic variety, loud and brassy, peppered her commentary with token neck shakes and hand gestures, getting louder and louder as she went, putting on a show for the other passengers, a display of “I will not be fucked with”. She and her friend, the hispanic woman I mean to say, gave each other looks and after the woman in front backed down, not without a smirk to save her dignity, she spent the rest of the ride being even louder to prove she could.
Predictable and without the least bit of emotional truth. The woman in the front was snide and condescending, the woman behind was a bully and out to prove a point. Essentially they were both idiots and putting on a show in a world where reality shows are the benchmark for behavior.
I wonder when I see two grown women going at it, not a bit of truth between them, what hope there is for quiet truth. I wonder which of them updated their status on Facebook to remark upon the idiot on the train. Maybe they both did.
I read my book, swept up in Chris Cleave’s ability to take a premise I wouldn’t have read had I known (similar to my feelings for Little Bee) and weave it into something so real and true that as I sat watching real life, I wondered if there wasn’t a crack in the universe.
Truth would now be found in books, and the mess coming out of people’s mouths was no longer to be more than a virtual chest-puffing-out charade.
Cleave does first person so remarkably, I read and felt like I was taking a class on writing and relieved to be among something real, something true in the realm of such utter bullshit. I expect my children to behave better those two adult women.
Lately I’ve begun to suspect that polite discourse is a quaint thing of the past, no more useful than a chamber pot. I teach my kids to say please and thank you, eat with their mouths closed and their elbows off the table. I tell them that sometimes you don’t know what someone has going on, so it’s better to be kind than to meet anger with anger. I wonder if I’m leaving them unprepared in such a senseless world where short tempers are bragged about and bullies are found in business left and right and sometimes the only way to survive is to squash them.
But that flattens the spark that makes you human, and makes you a character on a train, one that puts on a show for the others under the guise of defending yourself.
I don’t want my kids to have flattened sparks.
Lacking role models in this internet/reality tv age, I want them to have the emotional truth of a character in a novel instead.
That’s what I decided when I was not sleeping and reading a really good book while bouncing along a train track for an hour this evening.