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 Risk makes him irritated, stressed, withdrawn. He’s just as dismal and heavy as the plodding furniture in his outdated apartment.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.