Now I’ve finished Pitch Dark by Renata Adler, which turned out, of course, not to be what I’d taken it for, 40 pages in, when I wrote the previous post. It’s narrator, Kate is going through a crisis in her life, a love affair that’s doing her no good, and misapprehensions cluster around this central crisis, which is itself a misapprehension — that she is loved by the man she loves, that that love is and ought to be the natural center and purpose of her life.
The misapprehensions take fascinating forms. Conversations that shy off into two directions at once, each speaker completely missing the other’s point. There are the visits to her rural house of a raccoon she takes to attempting, all against the usual, to trying to befriend — until she finds out it’s slowly succumbing to distemper. And then there’s a sojourn in Ireland, a place to escape the broken love affair, to rest, maybe to write. Kate is lent a big country house by an ambassador she’s met socially, told the Irish staff will be friendly and look after her. But the staff are withholding and surly, and the house itself almost preternaturally unwelcoming, and Kate’s anxiety is spiraling; she grows paranoid, and decides to leave Ireland early. Her night-time flight in a rental car through the Hibernian dark — dark in every sense to a young woman who is afraid she’s breaking the law, under surveillance, soon to be caught and punished — is a tour-de-force of nightmare in which she understands nothing of what’s happening, and ascribes purposes and motivations to everything that are all derived solely from her misapprehensions.
I got used to the indirect style of the narrative; it’s imitative of Kate’s darting thought, the kaleidoscope of her intellect, and its perceptions, memories. Sometimes she’s addressing her absent lover, challenging him, challenging their relationship; at others she’s just telling, moment by moment, what’s happening to her, and what memories and associations her (mis)apprehensions evoke.
Adler has a lot to say about isolation, loneliness, alienation, which are, alas, pet topics of mine. This passage, pp124-5 of the NYRB edition, are well felt:
… it would be part of what I know, part of what I have to tell, that I understand something, not everything, but something, of what it is to be alone. In this way. And that there must be others who are and have always been alone. In this way.
Those for whom there was, first dimly, then more bright, then dimly again, a possibility. Which, though dimly, perhaps still exists, but which they know, have somehow always known, would never come to anything. They were never, how can I put this, going to be a part of life. It is as though, going through a landscape, through the seasons, in the same general direction as everybody else, they never quite made it to the road. Through the years, humanity, like a tide of refugees or pilgrims, shoeless and in rags, or in Mercedes, station wagons, running shoes, were traveling on, joined by others, falling by the way. And we, joined though we may be, briefly, by other strays, or by road travelers on their little detours, nonetheless never quite joined the continuing procession, of life and birth, never quite found or made it to the road.
So, I’ve embarked on my whimsical project of reading through the letters of the alphabet, two a month, of unread books from my own shelves. Next up, B is for Isabel Bolton and New York Mosaic, a Virago Modern Classic that’s I must’ve had for at least the last 15 years. (I had to use a stepladder, because the Viragos, in alphabetical order, start up by the ceiling.)
Other titles on deck that I expect to at least start in the next week: