The Eye in the Door, by Pat Barker, part II

15 Nov

The Eye in the Door, Pat Barker

So, I’ve continued thinking about class in The Eye in the Door, a book which, if it isn’t taught in universities, should be. In the end, Barker’s working-class “temporary gentleman” officer-hero Billy Prior, who secretly sleeps with men, is offered a cushy desk job by an upper-class Englishmen he cruised in the park in the book’s opening scenes. The upper-class man, Charles Manning, has unclear motives for the offer, partially kindness, perhaps, and partially buying Prior’s silence.

I’ve also been thinking about what an excellent writer Pat Barker is. On the micro level it has to do with complexity of scene and on the macro level, it’s the way she plays scenes off on each other throughout the book. The encounter in the park, mentioned above, kicks the book off, and is resolved with the job offer in the final chapter, but why these two scenes are the bracket isn’t immediately apparent. Plot-wise, Prior and Manning’s relationship is minor.

This is the first edition I owned of this book. Long ago loaned-and-lost.

This is the first edition I owned of this book. Long ago loaned-and-lost.

But, in terms of themes, the Prior-Manning connection is at the book’s heart.

Here’s part of the scene after they’ve met in the park and gone to Manning’s shut-up London home:

“All very nice, Prior thought, but not what I came for. He noticed that Manning’s eyes, though they roamed all over the place, always returned to the stars on Prior’s sleeve. Well, you knew I was an officer, he said silently. He was beginning to suspect Manning might be one of those who cannot—simply cannot—let go sexually with a social equal. Prior sighed, and stood up. ‘Do you mind if I take this off?’ he said. ‘I’m quite warm.’

He wasn’t warm. In fact, to coin a phrase, he was bloody nithered. However. He took off his tie, tunic and shirt, and threw them over the back of a chair. Manning said nothing, simply watched. Prior ran his fingers through his cropped hair till it stood up in spikes, lit a cigarette, rolled it in a particular way along his bottom lip, and smiled. He’d transformed himself into the sort of working-class boy Manning would think it was all right to fuck. A sort of seminal spittoon. And it worked. Manning’s eyes grew dark as his pupils flared. Bending over him, Prior put his hand between his legs, thinking he’d probably never felt a spurt of purer class antagonism than he felt right at that moment. He roughened his accent. ‘A’ right?’

‘Yes. Let’s go upstairs.'”

Manning is Prior’s class enemy—the phrase ‘seminal spittoon’ makes that clear. But the upheavals of the war have landed them literally and figuratively in bed together. How Prior will handle it is his emotional arc for the book. After being wounded out of the war, he’s assigned a desk-job in an upper crust intelligence unit, spying on working-class anti-war activists from his old neighborhood. He’s caught in the middle, neither a pacifist nor an accepted member of the unit.

Pat Barker, The Eye in the Door

Another of the book’s themes is surveillance, which dovetails beautifully into class, as the lower classes (and the sexually deviant) are often surveilled. Manning is a minor character, but the few chapters told from his perspective address how his sexuality makes him a target of observation. We’re also privy to some of his thoughts about class, a reference back to the first scene that’s dropped into the stream of Barker’s prose in a way that looks easy but is actually very difficult to do. Here’s Manning describing Prior:

At first, noting Prior’s flattened vowels, he’d thought, oh yes. Temporary gentleman. A nasty, snobbish little phrase, but everybody used it, though obviously one tried not to use it in connection with people one liked. But the amazing thing was how persistent one’s awareness of class distinction was. The mind seemed capable of making these minute social assessments in almost any circumstances. He remembered the Somme, how the Northumberlands and Durhams had lain, where the machine-guns had caught them, in neat swathes, like harvested wheat. Later that night, crashing along a trench in pitch-blackness, trying desperately to work out where the frontage he was responsible for ended, he’d stumbled into a Northumberlands’ officer, very obviously shaken by the carnage inflicted on his battalion. And who could blame him? God knows how many they’d lost. Manning, sympathizing, steadying, well aware that his own nerves had not yet been tested, had none the less found time to notice that the Northumberlands’ officer dropped his aitches. He’d been jarred by it. Horrified by the reaction, but jarred nevertheless. And the odd thing was he knew if the man had been a private, he would not have been jarred, he would have handled the situation much better.

In the end, Manning wields the power of his privilege and offers Prior a job, which Prior declines. The job-offer is a fascinating note to end the book on. On the one hand, Manning and Prior are both sexual outsiders and thus somewhat allied. Manning is offering Prior something of great value—the job would keep him from ever being sent back to the front. Prior says, “Manning’s offer was one for which a great many men would have given an arm or a leg, and not merely in the meaningless way that expression was normally used.” (He’s referring to men shooting themselves to get out of the war.) But in another sense, it’s a naked example of the upper class using its resources to defend and perpetuate itself.

Prior’s choice to decline the job is the happy ending.

“Prior nodded, glanced round to make sure they were unobserved, then took hold of Manning’s pudgy cheeks and chucked them. ‘There’ll always be an England,’ he told him and ran, laughing, down the steps.”

Prior sees how the whole thing works, and escapes, laughing. It’s a wonderful end to a wonderful book.

39. & 40. The Eye in the Door, by Pat Barker

13 Nov

The Eye in the Door, Pat Barker

Pat Barker‘s Regeneration Trilogy is the best work of fiction ever written about World War I (I know!, but I’m sticking to it). The first volume, Regeneration, is set at the Craiglockhart mental hospital and dramatizes events in the lives of the famous early psychiatrist W.H.R Rivers, the poets Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, the writer Robert Graves (author of I Claudius), and others.

Beautiful Siegfried Sassoon, just because.

Beautiful Siegfried Sassoon, just because.

The second book in the series, The Eye in the Door, follows another character from Craiglockhart, the fictional (as far as I know) Billy Prior, as he tries to cope with life on Permanent Home Service in London during the war. Prior was shell-shocked and belligerent at Craiglockhart, and in London begins experiencing split-consciousness breaks-in-time, during which he’s out walking around doing things that Prior in his right mind wouldn’t have chosen. He’s still undergoing analysis from Dr. Rivers, and still grappling with class anger and the things about himself he finds difficult to accept—sexual sadism, a taste for boys as well as girls, shame over his perceived weakness in being psychologically injured by the war.

Prior works in war intelligence, and his story intersects with two real-life events of the time, the first a trial of a working-class woman framed and imprisoned for activism against the war. (In this telling, an old friend of Prior’s, framed by his department). And the second the Pemberton Billing trial, which was a  high-profile anti-gay muckracking event trumped up by some crazy people obsessed with gayness. (Hey, we’ve seen that before.)

On the first level, Barker’s books are page-turners and really fun to read. But they’re also deeply complex, and this one circles around surveillance, both of the self and of the social other. In Regeneration, Prior’s ultimate war-horror moment was the memory of picking up a soldier’s disembodied eye.  Here that eye becomes an “eye in the door” representing state surveillance. The book’s political events make clear that the surveillance is of the working class and of other elements perceived as needing policing—gays and lesbians.

As I think about it, the book’s two poles of psychology and policing bring out the ways in which social policing was central to the psychology of the war effort. The policing was literal, like in the articles in Pemberton Billing’s right-wing newspaper that contended that Germans were turning Englishmen gay in order to erode their manhood and win the war.  But also deeper, as we see how the constructs of manhood and class obligation kept people like Sassoon fighting the war, despite knowing that the whole thing was bullshit.

Prior, as a working-class man elevated to officer status is torn between being the police (he works in intelligence) or the policed. His split-consciousness moments—where he’s literally unable to see himself—could be so many things. An urge to hide from the eye of society…. or an urge to hide from his own eye.

Here is a therapy scene between Prior and Rivers that further explores the them of eyes and seeing, and gives a sense of how brilliantly complex and fun Barker’s writing is.

“‘You know…’ Rivers hesitated and started again. ‘You must be wary of filling the gaps in your memory with …with monsters. I think we all tend to do it. As soon as we’re left with a blank, we start projecting our worst fears onto it. It’s a bit like the guide for medieval map-makers, isn’t it? Where unknown, there place monsters. But I do think you should try not to do it, because what you’re really doing is subjecting yourself to a constant stream of suggestion of of a very negative kind.’

‘All right. I’ll try not to. I’ll substitute the Rivers guide to map-making: Where unknown, there place dressing-gowns. Or just possibly, dogs. Here, have your chair back.’ Prior settled himself back into the patient’s chair, murmuring, ‘Do you know Rivers, you’re as neurotic as I am? And that’s saying quite a lot.’

Rivers rested his chin on his hands. ‘How do you feel about that?’

‘Oh my God, we are back to normal. You mean, ‘Do I feel a nasty, mean-spirited sense of triumph?’ No, I’m mean-spirited enough, I’m just not stupid enough.’ Prior brooded for a moment. ‘There’s one thing wrong with the Rivers guide to map-making. Suppose there really are monsters?’

‘I think if there are, we’ll meet them soon enough.’

Prior looked straight at Rivers. ‘I’m frightened.’

‘I know.'”

One of the many things that impresses me about this scene is that even in this small snippet it’s clearly written from Rivers’s perspective. The whole book is voiced in close-third-person, but which third person changes from chapter to chapter, with most but not all belonging to Prior. Yet it’s totally obvious that we’re with Rivers, not Prior. It’s also funny, and the dialog does a lot of work without seeming to.

I’m counting this book as 39 and 40 in my reading list for this year because I re-read Regeneration recently as well and never managed to blog about it. And I may start reading The Ghost Road, the last one in the series, tonight. They’re so good.


38. Death in Spring, by Merce Rodoreda

11 Nov

Death in Spring, Merce Rodoreda

Well, Death in Spring is the most fabulously gruesome and disturbing book I’ve read in a while.

It’s the last novel by Spanish writer Merce Rodoreda, originally published in 1986 in the Catalan language, translated into English in 2009 and published by Open Letter books.  The book is an allegory for life in Spain under the dictator Franco, and takes place in a village overrun by wisteria, undermined by a rushing river, swarmed by bees and girded with awful customs that deny the inhabitants all desire and dehumanize everyone they touch. The pregnant women wear blindfolds so they cannot see any men other than their husbands. A “prisoner” is kept and forced to neigh like a horse. Dying people’s throats are filled with rose-colored cement to trap their souls after death. The villagers are brutal and complicit, and the whole thing is overseen by “Senyor,” a crippled man living on the hillside above the village.

In the first section the main character watches a man commit a ritual suicide, chopping open a tree and climbing in it. The tree then seals itself around him with bubbling green resin. Every inhabitant of the village has a tree with their name on it. The boy describes it thus:

The trunk looked like a splayed horse. The tree was as wide and tall as a man, and I noticed the seedcase inside. It looked slightly green in the green light of the forest, the same color as the tree trunks in the nursery. The man poked the seedcase with the pitchfork, first on one side, then the other until it fell to the ground. Smoke rose from the gap left in the tree. The man put down the pitchfork, wiped the sweat from his neck, and rolled the seedcase to the foot of another tree. Some leaves were  caught on it…. He was weeping. He stepped backwards into the tree.

Later the narrator tells us that, “I was fourteen years old, and the man who had entered the tree to die was my father.” After this event the villagers find out what happened, return to the tree, exhume the still-dying man and fill him with rose cement so his soul cannot escape. And then the boy develops a strange passionate affair with his stepmother, an odd, child-like woman only a few years older than him.

We never know, really, what the seedcases are for or what the nursery is for or why the villagers must visit the buttermilk fountain. The point, I thought, was to convey the horror of a society devoted to senseless violence and turned in upon itself, where the end goal—in so much as there is ever any goal in a totalitarian state—is to crush the inhabitants’ souls.

In this telling of the tale, too, the inhabitants create the system perhaps more than Senyor, the dictator. Here is a part when the hero prepares to swim under the village, a forced passage that often causes mutilation or death:

I remember the sound of water. I don’t know whether it was because of the women or the sound of the river, but I thought about two types of water. One good, one bad. They all wanted it. They had contrived to do it. They were bored and needed it to keep living. Everyone’s face bespoke a craving, although what they wished was not really clear to them; they just wished it at whatever cost. I never realized they had all joined together to do this to me: men, women—even the pregnant women—the old men from the slaughterhouse, the man in charge of blood, the faceless men….

In the metaphorical language of the book, the ‘good’ water is desire, greenness, but it is corrupted or impossible for these people. Even the protagonist succumbs:

From the damp sprouted a new-green stem, topped by a bud. The bud grew large, the green streaked with the color of crimson dust. One day I had curled up, waiting for the flower to blossom. It made a clicking sound when it opened and the flower released the leaves. I plucked it, and bitter, viscous water spurted from the stem. If you touched it and rubbed your fingers over your lips, you got sores. All of a sudden I realized what I desired: sorrow. The stones scattered in the mud were patches of sorrow.

It doesn’t seem like it’s his fault, more like his destiny. Though he does turn away from love (I think) at one crucial part near the end.

Here’s a last bit about water, as close as he comes to good desire, and a decent sum-up of the author’s project for the book:

Tenderness changed me into water and everything that fled from me was in that water. I don’t know why, I don’t know what those mornings were because no words exist for them. No. No words exist. They have to be invented.

37. News From The World, Stories & Essays by Paula Fox

10 Nov

News from the World, Paula Fox

This is a bad reason to be fascinated by a writer, but Paula Fox is Courtney Love’s grandmother. She gave a child up for adoption when she was young (if I have the story right), and that child turned out to be Courtney’s mother. Love did not grow up with any relationship to Fox, and Google tells me that they dislike each other and have no relationship as adults, but somehow the celebrity gene, or the art gene, or the genius gene was passed on. I find that really interesting. And also, from her work, Paula Fox is obviously a crusty, outspoken old hard-ass, which seems just what Courtney Love would be if she’d had an easier life. And, in the somewhat irrelevant-to-literature annals of my admiration for this family, Francis Bean Cobain seems like a really cool person from her Twitter feed.

The stories and essays in this book are a mixed bag, as collected works by people of general interest often are. The uniting thread is Paula Fox more so than theme. (Fox’s best-known novel is Desperate Characters, which was revived by Johnathan Franzen writing for Harper’s, about 15 years ago, and then returned to print.) In News from the World, there are a few short stories about dysfunctional relationships or nasty people that seem fine but forgettable, and some essays on our crappy modern world that are true, more or less, but feel like a cocktail-party rant. “The Stop of Truth,” for example, is about the censorship of children’s books, and how we’re turning them into pablum (true, for what it’s worth, but not even a good title). And “Unquestioned Answers” seems to be about how the word “like” and sloppy language is ruining society. Both themes make the reader glad for Paula Fox that she probably doesn’t use the Internet.

Fox was married to the literary critic Martin Greenberg, brother of the art critic Clement Greenberg, and knew a lot of famous people, so there is a fair amount of “that time I saw Frieda Kahlo” in the essays as well. (Also, another fun fact I didn’t know: Apparently it’s possible that Marlon Brando is Courtney Love’s grandfather!)

But then there are the true gems of the type that made Franzen fall in love with Paula Fox’s work, and made her the once-big-deal she was in the 60s and 70s. The first essay, “Cigarette” is one of the most cleverly constructed and resonant personal essays I’ve ever read, with the loosely linked topics of a freak accident and a first cigarette offering a startling view of the role trauma plays in our lives. And the story “Grace,” about a dickish man who adopts a dog when his girlfriend dumps him, goes somewhere new every few paragraphs. Here’s a moment of representative strangeness. The narrator is describing the kinds of things people say to John, the new dog-owner, in the park. And then a paragraph begins:

“‘Look at her tits. She’s certainly had one litter. And some of her whiskers are white,’ observed a youngish woman wearing a black sweatshirt and baggy gray cotton trousers. As she looked at John her expression was solemn, her tone of voice impersonal. But he thought he detected in her words the character of a proclamation: ‘Tits’ was a matter-of-fact word a woman could say to a man unless he was constrained by outmoded views.

What if, he speculated, inflamed by her use of the word, he had leaped upon her and grabbed her breasts, which, as she spoke, rose and fell behind her sweatshirt like actors moving behind a curtain?”

We don’t yet realize, when this passage comes, that John has been unhinged by the loss of his girlfriend, but on second read, it becomes obvious that nothing is accidental in a Paula Fox story. The news from the world may not be good, but she’s able to make wonderful writing out of it, when she sets her mind to it.


36. The Belly of Paris, by Émile Zola

30 Oct

I am reading this book entirely wrong.

Émile Zola was a social critic, best known for his work detailing the horrors of the lives of the working class miners in Germinal. The Belly of Paris chronicles the struggles of the Thin battling the Fat—i.e. the virtuous poor vs the fat bourgeoisie—in the rapidly industrializing Paris of the 1850s. The book’s centerpiece is Les Halles, the old food markets in Paris which were torn down in the 1970s, but were new at Zola’s time. To Zola they were a marvel and horror of the industrializing world.

….like some vast modern machine, a steam engine or a cauldron supplying the digestive needs of a whole people, a huge metal belly, bolted and riveted, constructed of wood, glass, and iron, with the elegance and power of a machine working away with firey furnaces and wildly turning wheels.

The emergence of mass society horrified Zola, and many of his descriptions submerge humans into the industrial landscapes surrounding them. He also pretty clearly doesn’t want the food to sound tasty. We get “swelling hearts of the lettuces,” carrots that “glowed blood-red,” turnips that “became incandescent in the triumphant radiance of the sun,” and cartloads of cabbages “being discharged,” among many other descriptions of the slimy, stinking foul food.

But this is why I’m reading it wrong, because from Brooklyn 2015, Les Halles looks rosy. All that food coming in fresh every day from the countryside! An entire vast metropolis eating without refrigeration! I find myself looking past the author’s incandescent turnips and bloody carrots to all those amazing piles of food, and not thinking what I’m supposed to think. And I’m aided by this in the enormous amount of realistic description of the daily life of the market in the novel. It’s supposed to be a technique to convey the crushing scale of modern life in the 1850s, but it’s also a pretty cool historical document.

Nor do I sympathize with the right characters. The novel’s “fat” bourgeoisie are supposed to be bad. Zola is critical of their gluttony, and spends many passages excoriating the evil, complacent, plump woman who owns the sausage shop and who is the foil for his “thin” main character, Florent. But to me her successful small business and pride in her craft make her more of a figure of admiration than scorn. So what, she’s plump!? She makes artisinal blood sausage.

Here’s a selection from a passage in which she’s described as “the queen of all this dangling fat and meat”:

Lisa remained standing at her counter, her head turned slightly in the direction of Les Halles…. Around her rose the smell of all the cooking meats; she was as if enveloped, in her heavy calm, by the aroma of truffles. She looked beautifully fresh that afternoon. The whiteness of all the dishes heightened the whiteness of her apron and sleeves, and set off her plump neck and rosy cheeks, which had the same soft tones as the hams and the same transparent pallor as the fats.

Yuck. But I still like her.

Some of the tension I’m feeling is inherent in the book, too, and possibly in Zola’s social perspective. His good “thin” character, Florent, is a vaguely dissatisfied man who is wrongly arrested by the regime, spends time in a penal colony, and escapes to return to Paris. Les Halles makes him sick, but he never tries even to leave the neighborhood. Eventually, when he fails to look for other work, his successful shopkeeper relative (Lisa) takes him in, treats him with fairness, and gets him a job there. Florent finds this situation intolerable, and gets everyone in trouble with more vague political action. If he’s the alternative to the bourgeoisie, he seems to be intentionally an infantile and ineffectual one. The bad-guy fishwives and shop-keepers look good by comparison.

When Florent is deported again and everyone goes back to making sausage, I was not disappointed.

Mayflower, by Nathaniel Philbrick

30 Sep

Mayflower, Nathaniel Philbrick

“They were nearly ten weeks into a voyage that was supposed to have been completed during the balmy days of summer. But they had started late, and it was now November, and winter was coming on. They had long since run out of firewood, and they were reaching the slimy bottoms of their water casks. Of even greater concern, they were down to their last casks of beer. Due to the notoriously bad quality of the drinking water in seventeenth-century England, beer was considered essential to a healthy diet. And sure enough, with the rationing of their beer came the unmistakable signs of scurvy: bleeding gums, loosening teeth, and foul-smelling breath. So far only two had died…”

Despite having grown up outside of Boston, I haven’t studied the story of the Mayflower since grade school, and was at first riveted to this history by Nathaniel Philbrick, which put the names I’ve seen all around me since childhood into immediate cultural context. Massasoit was the local Indian chief who first helped the Pilgrims. I pass a park and a community college bearing his name on the way to Cape Cod. The Narragansetts, from now–Rhode Island were the nearest hostile tribe. And Plymouth, of course, was where the Mayflower first landed, except it didn’t. The Pilgrims first set down in now-Provincetown, and spent weeks blundering around Cape Cod, stealing from the local Indians and wondering what to do.

These Pilgrims were not an inspiring lot, I was surprised to learn. They were a religious community already in exile from England and living in Holland, who had no wilderness skills, little money and little business acumen. They were cheated by the men who funded the voyage, abandoned by their pastor on the eve of travel, and arrived in the new world, during an exceptionally cold November (there was a ‘little ice age’ in the 1600s), all set to starve. Also, about half the population of the Mayflower were “strangers”—non religious men, with whom the Pilgrims had to get along. Considering the early political spats, farming setbacks and sheer battle with starvation, it’s surprising anyone survived. (And in fact, they wouldn’t have if they hadn’t abandoned an early attempt at communal farming, Philbrick writes. Before owning their own land, even the founding fathers didn’t want to work….)

But the Plymouth men were princes compared to a more commercial expedition that arrived a few years later and settled at Wessagusset.

“Wessagusset was more like early Jamestown—a group of unattached men with relatively little in common. In the beginning, their energies were directed toward building a fort. But once that was completed they were unprepared to face the rigors of a hard New England winter. As in Jamestown, a state of almost unaccountable languor quickly descended on the inhabitants. Suffering from a deadly combination of malnutrition and despair….”

The colonists at Wessagusset’s bad behavior quickly soured the relationship with the local Indians, and it is here, writing about the politics between Indians and white settlers, that Philbrick’s book finds its heart. I hadn’t quite known how much history survives about specific Indian leaders, guides and dynasties, but Philbrick found a wealth of it. Mayflower also recontextualized for me the cliches about innocent and noble Indians taken advantage of by white men. In Philbrick’s book, the local Indian leaders were rivals and equals to the arriving whites. Or, in some cases, superiors, since the Indians considered themselves Kings, and no English King had set foot in the new world. The Indian cooperation or lack of it with the white settlers was mostly motivated by internal Indian politics, and had little to do with the moral and spiritual superiority now ascribed to Native Americans.

Despite the inherent interest of the subject matter, though, the book was more worthy than well-executed. As the original Mayflower and Indian players were replaced by their descendants, I started getting confused about who the characters were, and became lost in a forest of details, betrayals, and squabbles.

I stopped reading before the outbreak of war between the Indians and settlers, where the goals of both communities were betrayed, with the tragic results we live with to this day.


35. The Martian, by Andy Weir

29 Sep

The Martian, Andy Weir

Let’s preface this by saying that The Martian is an excellent thriller. The premise of the book on which the current movie starring Matt Damon is based is that a botanist/engineer gets left behind on Mars and has to survive, relying on the supplies left by the space mission, his science-nerd skills, and his aw shucks American optimism and ingenuity. Here’s how it starts:

I’m pretty much fucked.
That’s my considered opinion.
Six days into what should be the greatest month of my life, and it’s turned into a nightmare.
I don’t even know who’ll read this. I guess someone will find it eventually. Maybe a hundred years from now.
For the record…I didn’t die on Sol 6. Certainly the rest of the crew thought I did, and I can’t blame them. Maybe there’ll be a day of national mourning for me, and my Wikipedia page will say, “Mark Watney is the only human being to have died on Mars.”

This casual, humorous voice then walks the layperson through the NASA technology left behind, and how Watney will hack it to stay alive. He needs more food, more water, a means of communication with Earth, and not to make any big mistakes that will get him killed. It’s amazing that a guy growing some potatoes and doing chemistry experiments is such a page turner, but it really is. Could this be the first space procedural? I bought this book in an airport and it was at No. 4 on the New York Times bestseller list, so obviously everyone who has picked it up has been glued to it, and I was too.

I also have now discovered that The Martian was originally self-published, which makes it even more likable.

However, at the same time as I read all 435 pages with great relish, the part of my brain that thinks was screaming in agony.

The character is admittedly supposed to be the kind of happy optimist who deals with stress by making jokes, but his endless “Whee! Yay! I’m alive!” delivery—or, sometimes, “I have a hell of a backache. I’m sick of this”—became simplistic and grating. Also, everything he tried mostly worked, which life mostly doesn’t, and so by the end when he drives 3,200 kilometers with only one minor accident, and then gets launched into space in a shuttle with a hole in the top…. it was all so flat it was impossible to care. Sure the adventure probably needed a person incapable of introspection to deal with the stress, but a person incapable of introspection doesn’t bring much to even the most fabulous adventure.

The worst part, though, was the portrayal of the politics back on earth, where the whole world pulled together to save one man’s life!!!! All of NASA worked around the clock, sparing no expense!!! Every space program was gutted and reorganized into a save-Watney mission! China got involved!! Six other people risked their lives! Watney explains that “they did it because every human being has a basic instinct to help each other out.”

I do believe that individual human beings in crisis situations often behave heroically, and Watney’s fellow astronauts risking their lives to return for him seemed reasonable. But the American government makes decisions that result in many, many people getting killed every. single. day. for reasons of politics and expedience. Those people are usually not heroic and adorable like astronauts, but still, if you weigh all lives equally, it’s hard to enjoy Weir’s fantasy. Look at the ongoing tragedy of the Syrian refugees, or what happened to the low-income residents of New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. Where’s the basic instinct of every human being to help those people out?

Obviously people read thrillers to get away from reality, and I should too, but I can’t do it.



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