Lit Picks

Selections of finely written passages by great authors.

The truth was simpler.  Women knew it in their hearts.  Since he was too tactful to say it to her, he was obligated to set it out impartially for himself.  Repetition was helpful.  Older men were better companions, they were seasoned lovers, they knew the world, they knew themselves.  Unlike younger men, they held their emotions in balance.  They had read more, seen more, they were warmer, kinder, less boastful, more tolerant, less violent.  They were more interesting, they could choose the wine.  The had more money. Besides, it irked him to believe that it might not be him she was drawn to but some symbol of seniority of which he was an acceptable approximation.

Ian McEwan, Solar.

Late on a dismal afternoon in March, in cold and greasy drizzle, Walter rode with his assistant, Lalitha, up from Charleston into the mountains of southern West Virginia.  Although Lalitha was a fast and somewhat reckless driver, Walter had come to prefer the anxiety of being her passenger to the judgmental anger that consumed him when he was at the wheel — the seemingly inescapable sense that, of all the drivers on the road, only he was traveling at exactly the right speed, only he was striking an appropriate balance between too punctiliously obeying traffic rules and too dangerously flouting them.  In the last two years, he’d spent a lot of angry hours on the roads of West Virginia, tailgating the idiotic slowpokes and then slowing down himself to punish the rude tailgaters, ruthlessly defending the inner lane of interstates from assholes trying to pass him on the right, passing on the right himself when some fool or cellphone yakker or sanctimonious speed-limit enforcer clogged the inner lane, obsessively profiling and psychoanalyzing the drivers who refused to use their turn signals (almost always youngish men for whom the use of blinkers was apparently an affront to their masculinity, the compromised state of which was already manifest in the compensatory gigantism of their pickups and SUVs), experiencing murderous hatred of the lane-violating coal-truck drivers who caused fatal accidents literally once a week in West Virginia, impotently blaming the corrupt state legislators who refused to lower the coal-truck weight limit below 110,000 pounds despite the bounteous evidence of the havoc they wreaked, muttering “Unbelievable! Unbelievable!” when a driver ahead of him braked for a green light and then accelerated through yellow and left him stranded at red, boiling while he waited a full minute at intersections with no cross traffic visible for miles, and painfully swallowing, for Lalitha’s sake, the invective he yearned to vent when stymied by a driver refusing to make a legal right turn on red: “Hello?  Get a clue?  The world consists of more than just you!  Other people have reality!  Learn to drive!  Hello!”  Better the adrenaline rush of Lalitha’s flooring the gas to pass uphill-struggling trucks than the stress on his cerebral arteries of taking the wheel himself and remaining stuck behind those trucks.  This way, he could look out at the gray matchstick Appalachian woods and the mining-ravaged ridges and direct his anger at problems more worthy of it.

Jonathan Franzen, Freedom.

More to follow…

— The Major


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