The History of Love: A Novel (post the second), Nicole Krauss

I didn’t think I would have time to finish this book over the weekend. We’re packing for a six-week work trip to Europe, and of the many, many things I do not have time for, reading is very near the top of the list. And yet.

History-of-Love-jacketA feeling of sadness came over him. All these years Litvinoff had imagined he was so much like his friend. He’d prided himself on what he considered their similarities. But the truth was that he was no more like the man fighting a fever in the bed ten feet away than he was like the cat that had just slunk off: they were different species. It was obvious, Litvinoff thought. All you had to do was look at how each had approached the same subject. Where he saw a page of words, his friend saw the field of hesitations, black holes, and possibilities between the words. Where his friend saw dappled light, the felicity of flight, the sadness of gravity, he saw the solid form of a common sparrow. Litvinoff’s life was defined by a delight in the weight of the real; his friend’s by a rejection of reality, with its army of flat-footed facts. Looking at his reflection in the dark window, Litvinoff believed something had been peeled away and a truth revealed to him: He was an average man. A man willing to accept things as they were, and, because of this, he lacked the potential to be in any way original. And though he was wrong in every way about this, after that night nothing could dissuade him. (p 116)

This book was hard impossible to put down. I should have been doing laundry, cleaning out the refrigerator, finding our travel documents, but instead, I sat in the car with the sun beating down on me pouring over this novel until my husband came to find me. I told him it wasn’t my fault; I was just desperate for the mystery to finish unfolding, or for the unbearable weight of human sadness to be lifted, for even a moment.

I climbed the stairs to Bruno’s floor. I was about to knock when I saw the note on the door. It said: DO NOT DISTURB. GIFT UNDER YOUR PILLOW.

It had been a long time since anyone had given me a gift. A feeling of happiness nudged my heart. That I can wake up each morning and warm my hands on a hot cup of tea. That I can watch the pigeons fly. That at the end of my life, Bruno has not forgotten me. (p 92)

And eventually, it was lifted, in its way. This book was a celebration of survival in the face of terrible grief, but as Krauss so beautifully captures, survival does not necessarily mean happiness. Rather, it means allowing for surprise, for curiosity, for the opportunity for change – even if the change that comes only brings with it more questions.

It’s a story about the opportunities that seem almost magical in the face of despair, and about unraveling how it is they come to each of Krauss’ characters in turn. It takes patience to understand the timelines she interweaves, to watch for the threads that slowly pull the parallel lines closer together. The story refuses to be rushed until the last few chapters when the entire lush, guilty world tumbles together; it feels as if the weight of the narrators combine then to force the words out faster. The momentum she builds is so subtle, I hadn’t even notice we had shifted into the downward trajectory until we were halfway there and flying already.

The History of Love exists on the border between the fantastical and the painfully real. Half of the time I spent reading it, I couldn’t believe anything in it was true, and the other half – the greater half – I felt like I was being pummeled by those big, special, secret truths we all hold dear.

It hurt, and it was grand.  

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