your eyes like smoke and your prayers like rhymes

25Jan09
Good news! My cell phone was recovered in the backseat of Melinda’s car. My life can continue uninterrupted from here.

Yesterday was sort of interesting though, to not have that constant connectivity. I found myself wondering, What did we do before cell phones? (I actually had to do the old-fashioned thing and show up unannounced at Melinda’s apartment just to see if she’d found it. It was strange.)

I made a stop at Grimey’s again yesterday. I’ve come to the conclusion that that little shop is by far the coolest place in Nashville. I walked in towards the end of a performance, and instead of setting up a stage or anything resembling one, they had just pushed the record shelves out of the way and set up amps in the middle of the floor. While the band carried their equipment out, I browsed the New Arrivals section and waited for the store to reassemble itself. Imagine my sheer glee when, at the very back of the New Arrivals I spotted that blurry and singular image of Bob Dylan that could only mean I had inadvertently stumbled upon Blonde on Blonde.

My joy could not be contained. And it became even more pronounced when I got to the register and the clerk said, “Oh you’re lucky, this is the only copy we got in and it’s only been here about 45 minutes. I’m actually surprised it’s lasted that long.” I clutched it to my chest and ducked back out into the cold, a smile playing across my cheeks the whole way home.

The fact that Blonde on Blonde houses not only “Visions of Johanna” and “Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again”, but also “Fourth Time Around” and “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” is enough to make me cry. (“Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands”, already perfect, is made even more so on the album by taking up the entire B side of the second record. Eleven minutes and twenty seconds of pure, uninterrupted musical genius.)

Without even noticing it, I stayed up until almost three o’clock in the morning listening to it and finishing The History of Love. It seemed the perfect soundtrack to a book about Jews, diaspora, and impossible love.

I’m trying to find the right words to describe this book, but I’m coming up short. The endorsements on the front cover are words like, “Marvelous” (San Francisco Chronicle), “Astonishing” (Washington Post), and “Ingenious” (New York Times). It is all of those, and so much more.

So much of it is tangled up in Jewish culture and the collective history of the most resilient people on earth. So much of it is derived from tragedy and loss, but at the same time, it is one of the most tender and sweet books I’ve ever read. The Washington Post review goes on to say it is “At least as heartbreaking as it is hilarious.” And that is probably the best way to describe it.

Aside from Nicole Krauss being an absolutely brilliant–for lack of a better word–syntactician, the novel is intricately complex and storied. It spans almost a century and three continents, at least four different families, and is narrated by characters ranging in age from a man in his late 80s to a precoious and startlingly wise eleven-year-old boy who thinks he may or may not be one of 36 chosen lamed vovniks sent by God to save the world. There are at least five narrators, and though it sounds confusing, Nicole Krauss somehow managed to keep everything simple.

Part of it is that each narrator’s voice is unique and distinct. Another part of it is that, for each chapter and depending on who is narrating that chapter, the structure changes. Leo narrates in bursts and hesistations; he is sad and cynical and often hilarious in his honesty. Alma’s chapters take the shape of lists, numbered and titled individually; she speaks with the confusion of adolesence and the fear of outgrowing her mother. Bird’s chapters come straight from his private journal; he is laughably naive and blindly faithful.

The best comparison I can make is to Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer, and not just because both are novels about Jews and New York and fathers. (It shouldn’t surprise me, really, because it’s now so obvious that I feel like an idiot for missing it and because the dedication to The History of Love reads, and for Jonathan, my life, but Nicole Krauss and Jonathan Safran Foer are married.) So perhaps the comparison is too trite, now that I recognize where it’s coming from.

Regardless, this book was exceedingly moving. Like The Last Summer (of You & Me), there are an endless number of lines from this book that will probably haunt me for the rest of my life. (There is even a tattoo design in the works as a result of a particularly beautiful paragraph.) This book has words for everything and laughing & crying & writing and the hope that when I died, the sum total of my things would suggest a life larger than the one I lived.

But the best part about this book was not how wonderful the beginning and middle were, nor even how much fun crawling through Nicole Krauss’ words was. The best part about this book was the simplicity and sweetness with which it ended.

And since it will not ruin anything to include this, I will just say:

Really, there isn’t much to say.
He was a great writer.
He fell in love.
It was his life.

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One Response to “your eyes like smoke and your prayers like rhymes”

  1. 1 Katrina

    love it. and you.

    i wish nashville was only an hour away.


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