On Reading J.M. Coetzee’s “Slow Man”

The Slow Man, Paul Rayment, fits the title before during and after his bicycle accident that is the precursor to losing his leg. Coetzee says,

The blow catches him from the right, sharp and surprising and painful, like a bolt of electricity, lifting him up off the bicycle. Relax! he tells himself as he flies through the air (flies through the air with the greatest of ease!), and indeed he can feel his limbs go obediently slack. Like a cat he tells himself: roll, then spring to your feet, ready for what comes next. The unusual word limber or limbre is on the horizon too.”

Paul embraces isolation from innovation in his life. Risk makes him irritated, stressed, withdrawn. He’s just as dismal and heavy as the plodding furniture in his outdated apartment. He’s nothing but a boring character who can’t even be saved from his torporous life by his fat old lady deus ex machina, fiction writer Elizabeth Costello from a previous novel.

His caretaker’s wily intelligent son Drago says, “Do you hate things if they are new?” The aging solitary archivist photographer never gets around to anything new when, “this’ll do.” Effort to learn and excel in something is a waste of time and money. Even the shock of slicing off his leg does nothing to stop his slide into anonymity.

Coetzee’s strange rambling perverse mind harnessed in words, and the coming demise of my daughter’s brave and loving mother-in-law, who is my age, makes me belabor a recurring theme – life, death, eternity, and throat-choking, heart-pounding fear that ‘it’s never over’.

How can the whole human world in all its many incarnations of god, in all its convoluted evolutions of mind, want eternity, when the rest of the nonhuman world comes to its end naturally? The survival instinct functions to continue the seed of life, insuring success through the urge of pleasure. The corporal body is allowed to die, be eaten, decomposed back into the earth to give that seed a better chance. That’s enough eternity. No intimations of immortality gumming up the works. A clean die.

Watch for some comic relief next time.

Memories – Old Slices

Reading Spartina by John Casey. Not my favorite topic – boat life in New England – but I’ve dog-eared so many pages of good stuff. Like a memory of a father that brought tears to my eyes and looming memories of mine. I fight the slide into my father’s later life.

He sits alone in his recliner in his big empty house waiting for the phone not to ring. Year after year. And it doesn’t. Financial papers are strewn in piles at his feet, waiting for the attention he will never again give them. He hates what’s happening to him;  watching the bedrock of his life – his superior mind – crumble into dust.

“How’re you doing Dad?” I ask.”

“I’m gonna jump off the bridge.” or “I’m gonna shoot myself.” or some other form of suicide.

“We want to take you out for dinner.”

“Got stuff in the fridge I gotta use up.”

Right. Like the moldy bacon?  Or the bottle of orange juice, so sour that Terry spewed it out like a surging fire hydrant after the first swig. He’s stubborn just to be stubborn. So closed up inside he can’t break out of his hard Cancer shell. He’d rather suffer loneliness than crack open and let his guts spill out. 

But time passes. The teeth-gnashing and hair-pulling stage subsides until he forgets how to be stubborn and closed in; forgets how to hate losing his mind.

And at long last. He smiles and hugs and kisses me hello and good-bye. He (the absolute atheist) goes to church because he likes the music and sings along. He says ‘I love you’ for the first time in my life.