Friday, October 26, 2012

the last book I ever read (Zadie Smith's The Autograph Man, excerpt four)

from The Autograph Man by Zadie Smith:

Autograph collecting, as Alex is not the first to observe, shares much with woman-chasing and God-fearing. A woman who gives up her treasure with too much frequency is not coveted by men. Likewise a god who makes himself manifest and his laws obvious--such a god is not popular. Likewise a Ginger Rogers is not worth as much as one might imagine. This is because she signed everything she could get her hands on. She was easy. She was whorish. She gave what she had too freely. And now she is common, in the purest meaning of that word. Her value is judged accordingly.

Greta Garbo was not easy. If she put pen to paper at all, Garbo tended to use a pseudonym, Harriet Brown. Garbo would demand that her bank chase up the whereabouts of any check she had written that had not been cashed. She wouldn't let her name go, even on a receipt. A Garbo autograph, even a bad one, is still worth about six thousand pounds. Kitty Alexander signed even less than Garbo. Kitty was as awkward and invisible as Jehovah. She was aloof. The public hated her for it. And in time she was forgotten, for the public do not liked to be ignored. But Autograph Men are rather more masochistic than the public (the public are primarily sadistic); they enjoy contempt. The Autograph Men remembered Kitty, always. These are the same people for whom untimely deaths are good business, along with assassinations, and serial murders, and high-profile failures. Monroe's first husband, the third man on the moon, the Fifth Beatle. They have peculiar tastes. For a long time, Kitty Alexander's autograph has been one of the most sought-after scribbles in this peculiar world. Most Autograph Men have given up the hope of ever getting one. Not Alex. Every week since he was thirteen, Alex has sent a weekly letter to Kitty, to an address in Manhattan, her fan-club address. Never once has he received a response. Not once. Only a drawer full of form letters, signed by the fan club president. And therefore, therefore, it takes Alex a long moment, therefore, to remember why, how, by what means, a blank postcard with Kitty's autograph clearly written upon it has come to be pinned, like Luther's declaration, to his own front door. Carefully, he unpins it and holds it up to the light. It is exquisite. It is real. Or he is not Alex-Li Tandem. He presses the TALK button.

"Alex," says Joseph in his quiet way, "listen to me one more time. You did not receive it from God. Nor did you receive it in the post. You forged it, Alex; you were on a very bad trip. Everybody was. Listen to me. It wasn't real, it never will be real, and things do not become real simply because we want them to be so."

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