Tuesday, June 4, 2024

the last book I ever read (The Hours: A Novel by Michael Cunningham, excerpt two)

from The Hours: A Novel by Michael Cunningham:

Clarissa’s shoes make their soft sandpaper sounds as she descends the stairs on her way to buy flowers. Why doesn’t she feel more somber about Richard’s perversely simultaneous good fortune (“an anguished, prophetic voice in American letters”) and his decline (“You have no T-cells at all, none that we can detect”)? What is wrong with her? She loves Richard, she thinks of him constantly, but she perhaps loves the day slightly more. She loves West Tenth Street on an ordinary summer morning. She feels like a sluttish widow, freshly peroxided under her black veil, with her eye on the eligible men at her husband’s wake. Of the three of them—Louis, Richard, and Clarissa—Clarissa has always been the most hard-hearted, and the one most prone to romance. She’s endured teasing on the subject for more than thirty years; she decided long ago to give in and enjoy her own voluptuous, undisciplined responses, which, as Richard put it, tend to be as unkind and adoring as those of a particularly irritating, precocious child. She knows that a poet like Richard would move sternly through the same morning, editing it, dismissing incidental beauty, seeking the economic and historical truth behind these old brick town houses, the austere stone complications of the Episcopal church and the thin middle-aged man walking his Jack Russell terrier (they are suddenly ubiquitous along Fifth Avenue, these feisty, bowlegged little dogs), while she, Clarissa, simply enjoys without reason the houses, the church, the man, and the dog. It’s childish, she knows. It lacks edge. If she were to express it publicly (now, at her age), this love of hers would consign her to the realm of the duped and the simpleminded, Christians with acoustic guitars or wives who’ve agreed to be harmless in exchange for their keep. Still, this indiscriminate love feels entirely serious to her, as if everything in the world is part of a vast, inscrutable intention and everything in the world has its own secret name, a name that cannot be conveyed in language but is simply the sight and feel of the thing itself. This determined, abiding fascination is what she thinks of as her soul (an embarrassing, sentimental word, but what else to call it?); the part that might be conceivably survive the death of the body. Clarissa never speaks to anyone about any of that. She doesn’t gush or chirp. She exclaims only over the obvious manifestations of beauty, and even then managed a certain aspect of adult restraint. Beauty is a whore, she sometimes says. I like money better.

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