by Nick Hornby
read: circa 2001
Guardian 1000 Novels
I read High Fidelity in college and liked it. I liked the movie, too, though it bothers me that we have to Americanize everything set in England.
The very fact of a person's otherness to you means that there is always something fundamentally hidden about them. And that arises from the simple difference between one consciousness and another.Perhaps this is the fundamental problem of writing, and perhaps this is the fundamental challenge of being a human. We always spend infinitely more time in our own heads than we do in anyone else's, even those we are closest to. Roth gets this, and arguably the loose trilogy which The Human Stain concludes (also consisting of American Pastoral and I Married a Communist) is thematically linked by the attempt of narrator (and Roth alter-ego) Nathan Zuckerman to understand another man he admires. Professor Hungerford notes some homoerotic undertones in The Human Stain, but Zuckerman's infatuation with Coleman Silk parallels his idol worship of Swede Levov and his son-like affinity for Iron Rinn. Zuckerman is attracted to these men in a (mostly) non-sexual way, and his attraction manifests itself in his efforts to put himself in their shoes, to imagine their thoughts and feelings, to create their life stories out of his research and his imagination. Roth is exploring why literature even exists, and by employing Zuckerman as an intermediary he makes an argument for the noble futility of the craft.
This makes the character of Judge Holden in Blood Meridian puzzling, or maybe terrifying. Holden is the most sadistic and ruthless member of a sadistic and ruthless band of scalp-hunters riding across Mexico killing Indians. He is also the most learned, the most well-spoken, and the most ingenious. Holden appeared in the desert to the group to aid them in making gunpowder and killing enemies, but each member also had a prior encounter with the judge as he roamed throughout North American sowing chaos and evil. He is not explicitly superhuman, but as a character he has a mythical presence. This isn't Anton Chigurh, who acknowledges (and is ultimately undone by) the pivotal role of chance and fate in our lives; Holden is beyond such things: "He says that he will never die."You're somewhat constrained in writing a novel, I think. Like, I'm not a fan of some of the Latin American writers, magical realism. You know, it's hard enough to get people to believe what you're telling them without making it impossible. It has to be vaguely plausible.
Such details are merely accidental. Who could know but us? And since their thoughts were bent upon other ghosts than ours, other darknesses than we had seen, why must we be left, the survivors picking among flotsam, among the small, unnoticed, unvalued clutter that was all that remained when they vanished, that only catastrophe made notable?Things help us remember those we've lost. But memory itself is a curse. Ruth altruistically decides to become a transient with her Aunt Sylvie, because she can't bear the thought of becoming a ghost in Sylvie's memory. She spends much of the last chapter envisioning how her sister Lucille, who believes Ruth and Sylvie dead, might imagine or not imagine she sees them. Ruth's and Lucille's mother committed suicide when the girls were young, and Ruth blames her not for abandoning them but for haunting them. She never addresses her feeling of loss; instead her mother's suicide falls like a shadow over the whole story.