Why, until now, had I been reluctant to dip into her books that predate our relationship? Lots of reasons, I suspect. There’s jealousy: Who snuggled her on the sofa as she read that Ann Patchett when it came out? And my own inadequacy: What if I start Galsworthy’s 900-page “The Forsyte Saga” (which she regularly rereads) but lack the endurance to finish?
I think I also want to preserve a bit of mystery. The longer you are married, the fewer surprises, so maybe if I don’t read Wilkie Collins, the girl who devoured his works can remain a stranger. As a teenager, one of Cyd’s favorite books was Jack Finney’s “Time and Again,” a book that lives inside her but that I had never heard of. It can just be hers. A girl has to have her secrets.
For Tawada, selfhood is always in flux, a function of language and shifting desire. That view is postmodern, of course, but it is also Buddhist, and very much a part of traditional Japanese culture. Over and over again, her characters are forced to face their own mutability, at various times switching genders, bodies, even species, just as in a fable or a particularly wild Kabuki play.
In the spring of 2016, biologists at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service came to a terrible realization: The Yaqui catfish, the only catfish species native to the Western United States, was on the cusp of disappearing. After a week of searching, they could catch only two wild fish. They estimated that, at most, just 30 fish remained.
For approximately two decades, the last known Yaqui catfish in the United States had been kept in artificial ponds built in and around San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge, on the Arizona-Sonora border, and at a local zoo. Creatures of rivers and wetlands, they had not reproduced. Still, federal and state biologists felt they had to try one more time. In a last-ditch breeding effort, the agency gathered 11 fish and shipped them to a hatchery in Kansas. Within weeks, all of them died. Eventually, even the one geriatric catfish left on display at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum had to be put down.
The South Pole Wall, as it is known, consists of thousands of galaxies — beehives of trillions of stars and dark worlds, as well as dust and gas — aligned in a curtain arcing across at least 700 million light-years of space. It winds behind the dust, gas and stars of our own galaxy, the Milky Way, from the constellation Perseus in the Northern Hemisphere to the constellation Apus in the far south. It is so massive that it perturbs the local expansion of the universe.
But don’t bother trying to see it. The entire conglomeration is behind the Milky Way, in what astronomers quaintly call the zone of avoidance.
Walt Disney demanded and received the powers of a democratically elected government, and his corporation ducked the botheration of, you know, constituents. Constituents who might challenge Disney’s top-down plans or even vote them out of power. The constitutionality of this arrangement has never been challenged. I suppose this proves no one minds the arrangement all that much. But I tend to think otherwise. I think it proves that the people of Florida are no different from patsies across time and space: too ashamed to admit when we’ve been had.
“By turning the state of Florida and its statutes into their enablers,” T. D. Allman writes, “Disney and his successors pioneered a business model based on public subsidy of private profit coupled with corporate immunity from the laws, regulations, and taxes imposed on people that now increasingly characterizes the economy of the United States.”
Connections can serve as a nice substitute for depth, especially in popular fiction. But in the trench of meaning, connections run shallow rather than deep. It doesn’t take much to notice them, but they are always pleasing. And Mitchell is pleasing. At this point, reading his newest novel is like picking up a thread in the dark and following it until you reach the next knot. For readers who haven’t touched any of Mitchell’s back catalogue, Utopia Avenue is unlikely to offer anything special, but for those who have, the book is buttressed a bit by its place in the larger scheme. The author is building a long Something, on a scale rarely seen in fiction that is to be taken seriously, and like a cathedral being made in installations, the finished product is something only Mitchell can see, and the imagined whole is beginning to look more majestic than its composite parts.
You are doing what anyone would do
when you kneel in broad daylight, Patricia,
in the middle of a Cork street to whisper