Tuesday, November 14, 2023

the last book I ever read (The Netanyahus: An Account of a Minor and Ultimately Even Negligible Episode in the History of a Very Famous Family, excerpt two)

from The Netanyahus: An Account of a Minor and Ultimately Even Negligible Episode in the History of a Very Famous Family by Joshua Cohen, the 2022 Pulitzer Prize winner for Fiction:

The truth was this: my wife was bored and my daughter was angry. We’d sit around the hearth, where sometimes there wasn’t any warmth, because I was actually terrible at making fires and sometimes I’d use up entire boxes of matches just trying to spark the tinder. In the rare instance that I’d get the logs to catch, I’d inevitably forget to open the flue and the den would be choked with smoke. The fire had the same problem as the family: a lack of oxygen. I recall sitting by the side of cold ashes and a 500-piece puzzle of a $500 bill, trying to fit some together into the collar of that great protectionist William McKinley, aware but unable to communicate my awareness that the true puzzle to work on was us. Edith wanted a proper degree and a job that had her reading books, not just cataloging them; Judy wanted to get out of the house and be free of her nose, which she thought was too long, too big, too bumpy. Our house—like so many in our neighborhood, a Dutch Colonial, or, as it should perhaps more accurately be called, a Dutch Colonial Revival, because it dated from just after the Civil War when people were feeling nostalgic—was old and drafty and crumbling. I’d initially been in love with its clapboarded and shuttered austerity, but after a year of coming and going I’d become suspicious of its double-identity. Look at a Dutch Colonial from the front, it looks like a house. Look at a Dutch Colonial from the side, it looks like a barn. This bothered me. It made me uncertain as to whether we were humans or animals. And though there was so much to do to prepare the house for the winter—because last winter had left its lessons, especially on the shingling—I tended to procrastinate and withdraw after supper to my study upstairs. My study was at the end of the hall: a cherry-lined chamber, all my books shelved in my own order, which Edith couldn’t touch. I kept the door shut, but if I stayed still, if I stilled my breathing, I could hear her getting ready for bed. A bit later, I could hear Judy getting into bed. There would be a puddle of light under the draft of the door and then, with a click, it would dry up and vanish and, for a while at least, the only indication that I wasn’t alone in the house would be a certain stress, a certain tension, in the woodgrain, and the occasional creak of Edith rolling over, Judy’s whinny-snoring. It was during those hours that I’d put aside my taxes and turn to the Jews. That’s what I’d say—I’d get up from my desk and stretch and say, “Time for the Jews,” though sometimes I wouldn’t say it, I’d just think it, and, forsaking the research curriculum I’d set myself for the term (the commodity bubbles of the plantation economy), I’d head over to my cozy leather baseball-mitt recliner in the corner, switch on the floor lamp, and bury myself in Dr. Netanyahu, his journal articles, his journal reviews, his PhD thesis on the conversos, the Marranos, the Iberian Inquisition (Spanish and Portuguese).

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