Monday, February 22, 2016

A Double Double Life

In The Double Life of Liliane, (see my past post) Lily Tuck weaves anecdotes, hearsay, reminisces, family myth, to create a double entendre of a novel/memoir. Fictional autobiography.

Always the queen of the last line—something that suddenly sets the paragraph or heretofore off-kilter, Tuck has woven a tapestry of fiction and nonfiction. Told in vignettes—a way of remembering and re-telling—memories domino one after another until a house of cards has collapsed. Greater than one story, one life, we are the sum of many stories, many lives.

Succinctly told (again her style)—less than 250 pages—the novel is epic, but not overwrought. Tuck refuses to comment, expand, expound, or pass judgment upon her characters. They are who they are. I wonder about this author, about the hand of God, and who decides fate. There are many sudden twists that no one, much less the reader, has no control over.

They story centers upon Liliane a young girl, the offspring of survivors, a globe-trotting diaspora, chic refugees left without a country. Always seeming to sidestep war and holocaust, who have the ability to make champagne out of tap water. They dine, gamble, live out of hotels, one step ahead of absolute catastrophe.

But, even as they live, they are already dying. Seldom happy or content, they age, lose lovers, children, homes, countries. A story (the last story told by Liliane’s grandmother from her nursing home bed?) sums up much of the book.

During the First World War, two wounded soldiers share a room in the hospital. The sodier who has the bed next to the window keeps regaling the other soldier with what he sees. He says he sees beautiful women walking by and he describes what they look like—blondes, brunettes, redheads—and, of course, the soldier who is lying in the bed that is not next to the window becomes jealous and he, too, wants to be able to look out. So one night when the soldier who is in the bed next to the window takes a turn for the worse and begs the other soldier to fetch help, the soldier in the bed next to him ignores his anguished cries and lets the poor soldier die. The next day , after the body has been taken away and the nurse makes up the bed again, the soldier asks to be moved to the bed next to the window and when he finally gets to look out the window, do you know what he sees?
--a brick wall

I love Lily Tuck’s writing. I love the gaps she leaves, leaving room for the reader to ask questions. What is left unsaid.

“ ‘All narratives are allegories because of the gap that occurs between what the narrative does not say and what the reader does not say.’ ” So says Professor Paul de Man, see The Double Life of Paul de Man by Evelyn Barish. No one can be believed.

“ ‘I consider autobiography as an act of self-restoration in which the author recovers the fragments of his or her life into a coherent narrative.’ ”

Thus, much of memoir is about rehabilitating our memories, to line up with our retrospection/how we perceive the past.

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