Duly Quoted

"A library is a hospital for the mind."

“You stay close, and together we’ll systematically remove all the crazies from my life.”

Book: How We Are Hungry, by Dave Eggers

Well, I’m not as obsessed with these short stories as i am with A.H.W.O.S.G. (I think I will always love an author’s nonfiction over his or her fiction, honestly), and didn’t take away any kind of monumental life-changing revelations, but it was an apt read for the lazy summertime. Life, romance, the tangled web we weave…etc, etc.–and all the while, Dave Eggers is as wacky as ever! And ultimately charming in that wackery.


Was she in any way saddened by the predictability of the outcome? Was it unromantic? She decided that it was not. Sex and things like sex—things people pretend they regret—weren’t about a decision made in a heated moment. The decision is made when you leave the house, when you get on a plane, when you dial a number.

“I care about you, Pilar,” he said. “Don’t get pissed. And don’t make that face.”
Her lower teeth were jutting out, like a piranha’s. She knew she did this. She was angry that it was now this way with them, and so soon: she was not free. She would be given advice, or whatever it was.

They slept together once sober and it was awkward—they were not lovers but friends playing Twister. They went back to their original plan the next night. They drank a bit, and then went to bed, just under the surface of consciousness, feeling no edges. Someone watching them from afar might ask: How did they speak to each other? The answer: With the warmth of very old friends, though they were not yet old. How did he touch her? Clumsily, for he was clumsy and she was critical. How did she kiss him? Desperately, pulling and pushing, like a woman trying to get to the bottom of a deep pool.

If there were a question that needed to be answered in this story it would be not one but many, and would be these: How can a world allow all this? Allow these people to live so long? To travel all these miles south, to a place so different but still comfortable, and in that place, meet again? To allow them to be naked together for the first time? What would their parents think? What would their friends think? Would anyone object? Who would plan for them? How many times in life can we make decisions that are important but will not hurt anyone? Are we obligated—maybe we are—to say yes to any choice when no one will be hurt? We use the word hurt when talking about things like this because when these things go wrong it can feel as if you were hit in the sternum by a huge animal that’s run for miles just to strike you.

Waves were something she cared about now. But she began to are more about seeing them than catching them, and more about catching them than riding them, and above all she wanted to simply stay out beyond the breaks. Because after each ride, the trip back, past the breaks, was too much.

But a single contained God implied or insisted upon a hierarchy that she didn’t accept. God gave way to a system of extremes, and implied choices, and choices required separations, divisions, subtle condemnations. She was not ready to choose one God, so there would not be this sort of god in Pilar’s world, and thus the transcendental deity—
But then why God at all? The oil-wet water was not God. It was not the least bit spiritual. It was oil-wet water, and it felt perfect when Pilar put her hand into it, and it kissed her palm again and again, would never stop kissing her palm and why wasn’t that enough?

Fish likes to see the faces of people going the other way, to construct stories about them, wish them well or ill, but this is nothing, this drive—this is sorrow. It makes you want to freeze the world and shatter it with an ax.

Giving oneself up to that scratching, everywhere and furious—which she did only a month earlier when she’d contracted poison oak—that was the most profound pleasure she had ever known. And now, waiting for her son and knowing how righteous will be her indignation, how richly justified will be anything she yells into his irresponsible face, she finds herself awaiting his arrival in the way the ravenous might await a meal.

I had the feeling that she’d overromanticized the idea of living elsewhere, but I didn’t tell her this. We stepped through the castle museum, so many old things behind new glass. She complained that she was losing friends to substances and babies, that she was fighting, over the phone, with everyone she knew in the U.S. She was convinced she was right each time, but still, she wanted to know if she seemed insane. I told her she was perfect.
“I’m always on your side,” I said.
“Fine. You stay close, and together we’ll systematically remove all the crazies from my life.”

I wanted to love her heroically, selflessly—to honor her and defend her, and punish people who looked at her stump in a way that displeased her. But soon I realized that she had more than enough suitors, and at least a few of them would be better for her. They all seemed to be quiet, uncomplicated men, who were usually older and who invariably looked older than they were, and wore wool. But occasionally we glimpsed an “old friend” or an acquaintance from this gym or that band—she went to a lot of shows—and these men caused us concern. These men were thinner, unshaven, wore boots.

This exchange was itself a level of intimacy we’d never had. When we’d shared stories before, it had always been voluntary—titillating but unchallenging. Now I was pushing her and I felt we were very close.

My mouth dried and I pretended to keep smiling. Why do we pursue information that we know will never leave our heads? I was inviting a permanent, violent guest into my home. He would defecate on my bed. He would shred my clothes, light fires on the walls. I could see him walking up the driveway and I stood at the door, knowing that I’d be a fool to bring him inside. But still I opened the door.

Hours later, the cat was asleep, and Erin lay next to it, her eyes half-closed. There was purring. I felt content. Why does it give so much comfort to be responsible for someone’s sleep? We all—don’t we?—want creatures sleeping in our homes while we walk about, turning off lights. I wanted this now. I touched Erin’s soft head and she allowed me. She allowed me because she was tired. She seemed so profoundly tired.

Morning comes like a scream through a pinhole.

She liked nothing better than to drink in the sun. With strangers. To drink in the sun! To feel the numbing of her tongue and limbs while her skin cooked slowly, and her feet dug deeper into the powdery sand! Drunk in the sun she felt communion with all people and knew they wished her the best.

People were always quietly taking things from her, always with the understanding that everyone would be better off if Rita’s life were kept simplified. But she was ready for complication, wasn’t she? For a certain period of time, she was, she knows.

They were older than most when they learned to yelp. Most people, of most generations, in most of the world’s nations, learn to yelp at a young age. Some are born yelping, others learn it when they learn their mother tongue. Yelping, as they say, comes with the territory. But these people, the ones we’re talking about—born in the United States at a certain time—they had not learned to yelp.


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One Response

  1. […] Egg-cellent! (Pardon my pun). I liked it almost as much as A.H.W.O.S.G. (more than How We Are Hungry, I’d say), probably would’ve liked it just as much if it weren’t mostly fiction. […]

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