Category Fiction

The Magnificent Light of Anthony Doerr’s “All the Light We Cannot See”

The fog and devastation of war, and the blindness (both literal and figurative) of humans forced to grope along through its bombed out buildings, tank-rutted roads, and even deeper moral quandaries.

The weight and stench of occupation, of others in complete control of whatever they want to be in control of in your life—including your opportunity to continue living it.

The hollow feeling in the pit of your stomach when experiencing this humiliation, this sin against your sovereignty, day upon dispiriting day.

The heroisms and cowardices and cruelties, both small and large, of those caught up in war’s maelstrom, forced to come to terms with their own codes of conduct and conscience in a time of previously unimaginable duress.

The vagaries of fate, of being born into a particular time and place, of that time and place hurling you pell mell to other times and places, scattering your life like a landmine...

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Love 101: Carson McCullers’s “A Tree, A Rock, A Cloud”

A 12-year-old newspaper boy of a bygone era nears the end of his route and walks into a small cafe in the dark cold and rain of early morning to snag a cup of coffee. A few soldiers and factory workers are hunched at the counter while a man sits in a corner with his nose hovering over a beer. As the boy heads for the door, the man calls out to him, “Hey Son!”

The boy approaches tentatively, then recoils in confusion as the man lays one hand on his shoulder and uses the other to place it under the boy’s chin, the better to get a full look at him.

The boy snarls, “Say! What’s the big idea?”

Whereupon the man responds, “I love you.” 

Ah yes, the engineer, all acute observation and precision, gone all to mush in romantic love—probably human existence’s most inherently destabilizing, irrational experience, psychedelia X 10.

The scene sounds improbable in this age, in which the cafe proprietor and customers w...

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Might Make Things Worse…But Give “Babette’s Feast” a Taste Anyway!

Let’s face it: we’ve got ourselves a full-on feast famine. No restaurant gatherings with their familiar bustle and clinkings and clatters. No coffee joints or cocktail lounges, brewpubs or burrito joints. No concerts or dances, recitals or readings. Big bodacious birthday and anniversary and graduation celebrations: So 2019!

And then heaping insult atop all that injury of absence, we can’t even invite beloved friends and family to gather around our freaking dinner tables for a few precious hours of conviviality. It is a sad state of affairs, and if you note a playful tone underneath these complaints, rest assured it’s just a coping mechanism: I miss the hell out of all the joys the aforementioned settings entail, and long for the day when we give the coronavirus a swift kick in the ass and plunk it into the dustbin of history.

Meanwhile, we have the consolations of memory and the nearness of winsome, joyou...

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Chaos, Perseverance, Redemption: José Saramago’s “Blindness”

Cars line up at a traffic signal while their drivers wait for the light to turn green. When it does, one car does not move. Horns honk, epithets are muttered, drivers waiting behind the stationary car finally get out to investigate, then pound on the driver’s side window.

There, they behold a man waving his arms and turning his head side to side. Then they open his door to hear him exclaim, “I am blind.”

So begins “Blindness,” the late Portuguese writer José Saramago’s powerful, wholly original 1995 novel that explores a dystopian world in which blindness descends first on the driver depicted above but in short order engulfs all but one other inhabitant of an unnamed country at an unspecified, though modern time in human history.

At base, the hearty band of seven people we follow through to the story’s conclusion stand as a towering—if humbled to the nth degree—testament to human solidarity an...

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Courage, Compassion, Action: Albert Camus’s “The Plague”

“Our townsfolk were not more to blame than others; they forgot to be modest, that was all, and thought that everything was still possible for them; which presupposed that pestilences were impossible…They fancied themselves free, and no one will ever be free so long as there are pestilences.”

***

Albert Camus’s 1947 novel, “The Plague,” has often been described by critics as an allegory for the Nazi occupation of France during World War II. One can certainly read and profit from it as such, or even make it more timely today as the drama of an inept and ill-intentioned presidential administration sowing the plague of chaos and discord upon the land.

But make no mistake, “The Plague” is also very much about the real bubonic plague that has reared its head in human history over thousands of years.

The plague’s frightfulness is largely due to the approximately 50 million people it reportedly killed...

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