Wednesday, January 18, 2017

the last book I ever read (Moonglow: A Novel by Michael Chabon, excerpt ten)

from Moonglow: A Novel by Michael Chabon:

He pointed to the northeast. My grandfather felt his heart leap. A star had popped loose from its constellation and gone rolling down the sky. It was falling, but it was not a falling star. It did not flare up and wink out and leave a glowing ghost mark on the retinas. It just kept falling, and falling, and falling, until it disappeared behind the curvature of the earth. It was a prisoner of gravity like everything in the universe. Its orbit would degrade. It would spiral inward until it hit the air and then burn up and break apart and leave nothing but vapor and a memory. And then in time the memory itself would fade like vapor. But to my grandfather, watching secretly from the roof of the Wallkill prison, the passage of that chunk of radiant metal seemed to describe an everlasting arc of freedom. “Wow,” he said. “Look at that.”

“Sputnik!” Dr. Storch said with a childish glee.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

the last book I ever read (Moonglow: A Novel by Michael Chabon, excerpt nine)

from Moonglow: A Novel by Michael Chabon:

What he saw that day, and what he heard from the survivors he questioned, persuaded him that there was no way Wernher von Braun could have been technical director of the V-2 program while remaining unaware of how business was conducted in the Mittelwerk. Von Braun could not be crowned with the glory of the rocket without shouldering the burden of its shame. All the suffering my grandfather saw had been amassed and all the cruelty deployed at the prompting and in the service of von Braun’s dream. It turned out that the V-2 was not a means to liberate the human spirit from the chains of gravity; it was only a pretext for further enchainment. It was not an express bound for the stars but a mail rockets carrying one simple message, signed in high-explosive amatol with the name of Baron von Braun. Maybe the man’s dream had begun as something beautiful and grand. For a time, maybe, its grandeur and its beauty had blinded von Braun to all the ways in which he was busily betraying it. That was only human, the common lot. But once your dream revealed itself, like most dreams, to be nothing but a current of raw compulsion flowing through a circuitry of delusion and lies, then that was the time to give it up. That was the time to damn your dream and trust your eyes. And maybe cock your revolver.

Over the course of that long day in Nordhausen my grandfather trusted his eyes and gave up the dream he had shared with the Wernher von Braun of his imaginings. Along with it, he surrendered the memory of a rocket in a clearing, a half hour of something that had felt like peace, a midnight conversation with the rector of Our Lady of the Moon. When those things were gone, there was a bad moment as my grandfather found himself confronted once more with the void that surrounded the planet of his heart for a thousand parsecs in every direction. After that, as with the liberators of Nordhausen putting away their disgust and useless anguish, there was only the matter of his anger and where to point it.

Monday, January 16, 2017

the last book I ever read (Moonglow: A Novel by Michael Chabon, excerpt eight)

from Moonglow: A Novel by Michael Chabon:

“I’m disappointed in myself. In my life. All my life, everything I tried, I only got halfway there. You try to take advantage of the time you have. That’s what they tell you to do. But when you’re old, you look back and you see all you did, with all that time, is waste it. All you have is a story of things you never started or couldn’t finish. Things you fought with all your heart to build that didn’t last or fought with all your heart to get rid of and they’re all still around. I’m ashamed of myself.”

Sunday, January 15, 2017

the last book I ever read (Moonglow: A Novel by Michael Chabon, excerpt seven)

from Moonglow: A Novel by Michael Chabon:

There were a lot of painters living at Fontana Village. They painted detailed oil portraits of World War II aircraft, still lifes with seashells, nostalgia-brown scenes of shtetl weddings. They exhibited their work in the lobby of the Activity Center, at the annual holiday art fair.

Sally Sichel was not that kind of painter. She had studied at Pratt and taught painting at UC Davis with Arneson and Thiebaud. Joan Mitchell was the bridesmaid at her first wedding. Her work was not well known—my grandfather, whose idea of great painting began with Winslow Homer and ended with Analog magazine cover artist Kelly Freas, had never heard of her—but she was hardly unknown. Her canvases hung in museums and on the walls of collectors as far away as Japan. Back when SFMOMA was still in the War Memorial Veterans Building, they used to keep a small Sichel in a dim corner, where I paid it a visit once not long after my grandfather’s death. Like most of Sally’s work from the sixties, it seemed to be rooted in some dense and private mathematics. Its lacework of parabolas and angles—red-orange against titanium white—confused the eye. Retinal afterimages turned the white regions to jumping blue-green neon.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

the last book I ever read (Moonglow: A Novel by Michael Chabon, excerpt six)

from Moonglow: A Novel by Michael Chabon:

That morning my grandmother had sent my mother off to school with an assurance that Velvet Brown would have her Pie. Even as the promise was tendered, my mother could not help feeling that something dreadful lay coiled at its bottom. Her mother, she knew, had endured terrible things during the war and after. She had been taken from her family, and then her family had been taken from her. The Nazis had also killed the handsome and heroic young doctor who was my mother’s real father and who was usually played, in her imagination, by James Mason. Her mother had fought her way through the confusions and indignities or life as a refugee, through homesickness, shock, mourning, professional struggle, and the storms of exaltation and fury that blew through her head with the inconstant rhythm of hurricanes. All this while never losing the air of cheerful bitterness that, for my mother, defined bravery. When my grandmother promised my mother a “Hallowsween horse,” her tone had been terribly cheerful. She would allow that she was not wild about horses—“I don’t have to love them,” she would tell my mother, “because you love them enough for both of us”—but my mother suspected that in fact my grandmother had a horror of them.

Friday, January 13, 2017

the last book I ever read (Moonglow: A Novel by Michael Chabon, excerpt five)

from Moonglow: A Novel by Michael Chabon:

In the next one—Gilbey’s gin—I found a plastic shopping bag from New Rose Records in Paris. It once held either Fire of Love or a Johnny Thunders live album, depending on which visit to New Rose it was from. Now it contained a floppy black felt hat with a wide brim. That, an unopened box of blank TDK cassettes, and an “Aquarian” deck of tarot cards bought at Spencer Gifts in the Columbia Mall when I was thirteen turned out to be all there was in the Gilbey’s box. I scowled at the hat, trying to place it.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

the last book I ever read (Moonglow: A Novel by Michael Chabon, excerpt four)

from Moonglow: A Novel by Michael Chabon:

My grandfather often felt frustrated or baffled by my grandmother’s illness, but when it came to the origins of the Skinless Horse he though he understood. The Skinless Horse was a creature sworn to pursue my grandmother no matter where she went on the face of the globe, whispering to her in the foulest terms of her crimes and the blackness of her soul. There was a voice like that in everyone’s head, he figured; in my grandmother’s case it was just a matter of degree. You could almost see the Skinless Horse as a clever adaptation, a strategy for survival evolved by a proven survivor. If you kept the voice inside your head, the way most people did, there could really be only one way to silence it. He admired the defiance, the refusal to surrender, involuntary but implicit in the act of moving that reproachful whisperer to a shadowy corner of a room, an iron furnace in a cellar, the branches of a grand old tree.