i prefer people who leap

But what is Hope? Nothing but the paint on the face of Existence. The least touch of truth rubs it off, and then we see what a hollow-cheeked harlot we have got hold of.

~ Lord Byron, letter to Thomas Moore, 28 October 1815

Barrett Meeks wandering around Brooklyn like Leopold Bloom, but instead of a kidney in his pocket, he’s got a memory on his mind, a vision of a light in the evening sky.  A celestial light revealed only to him, a beacon of some hazy hope he never quite grasps.  This is why I was so frustrated with Michael Cunningham’s The Snow Queen.  I haven’t been able to pen my frustrations for myriad reasons for the characters in the book seem so pathetic and the story so unsatisfying.  Creative, witty, thoughtful, urbane, and each ingloriously cresting their youth.  Ah, the middle age narrative.  The stifled yawn at life and the tepid look around, is there nothing more than this?  It’s so depressing, but so real.  Who wants to trudge through that cold snow?!

I think I would have liked this book better if the promised transcendence were resolved or at least hinted at, but the story wanders toward an unsatisfactory conclusion.  Any hope the characters reach for is compromised.  Like the shabby Bushwick apartment they live in, they only manage cheap attempts to feel more at home in the world.  Barrett can only bring himself to creep into the back of a dimly lit church.  His brother Tyler wants to go out into the storm; he wants a certain clarity that comes from feeling naked in the snow, but he can only bring himself to the window ledge.  It’s all a flirtation with jumping.  No one leaps.  And I just love people who leap is all.  Cunningham’s story is about searching for authentic, transcendent experiences, but his characters are self-absorbed, indecisive, and utterly hopeless — and they wonder why they aren’t successful.  They struggle to retain any optimism they have left and hope for them becomes “a cheap jester’s cap.”  Who has time to wear it anymore?  Cunningham is fond of these despairing characters clutching breathlessly after beauty and truth, but at least Peter from Cunningham’s previous novel By Nightfall actually dares go after them.  Yeah, it’s all an illusory quest and sure, his hope is dashed in that novel, too, but that narrative ends with a sense that he’s learned something profound in the process.

It’s hard to read a story like this, characters like these, because while I most certainly identify with their cosmic pain and carry similar questions in all my pockets, yawning and looking around just the same as they do, I can’t imagine living one day without hope.  Even when I find myself in deep holes, I’m always looking up for the light and clawing my way back into its grace and comfort.  Perhaps my ready rope is gratitude and faith and an awareness of our interconnectedness, of an eternal loving divine presence . . . the colors, dear Byron, that never rub off.

Hope knows no fear. Hope dares to blossom even inside the abysmal abyss. Hope secretly feeds and strengthens promise.

~ Sri Chinmoy

 

If you liked this post, you might also like these: On Gravity and What Grounds You | Happiness, It’s Only a Day Away | Thinking About Michael Cunningham’s New Book?

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Comments

  1. that is one book I definitely won’t read; who needs such a downer. I do love, however, your answer: gratitude, and adore your word picture of “my ready rope is gratitude and faith and an awareness of our interconnectedness, of an eternal loving divine presence.” so very true to my experience, and what keeps me going as I daily experience my decline & trying to befriend death as our priest quoted at our memorial day mass in the cemetery.

    carry on dear one…

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