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Against the Day, Thomas PynchonChoose Your Own Advent is a yuletide celebration of literacy. We’ll spotlight a different novel every day until Christmas, hopefully helping you find one you’d like to read in the new year.

Title: Against the Day
Author: Thomas Pynchon
Year: 2006

I thought I’d write about Gravity’s Rainbow. I really did. It’s my favorite novel (full stop), and God knows I can ramble on endlessly about it. This would be the easiest entry to write. Hell, in my head, I’ve already overwritten it.

And if I didn’t write about Gravity’s Rainbow, maybe I’d write about V., Pynchon’s first novel. Or The Crying of Lot 49, which is the first novel of his that I read. Or Bleeding Edge, as it’s his most recent. Or Vineland, which is the novel of his I recommend the most to new readers. Maybe Inherent Vice, since I re-read that recently and might like to talk about it in a context other than comparing it to the film. Or Mason & Dixon, since the warm friendship at its core fits so well around the holidays.

In short, I genuinely didn’t expect to be writing about Against the Day…a book of his that I’m not even sure I like.

It’s overlong. It’s messy. It’s full of long stretches in which nothing interesting happens, and which often do little more than spew historical reference points. It raises great ideas and neglects to follow through on them. Its threads often fail to cohere. It’s too busy, too dense, too confusing.

But it’s also full of brilliance. Not consistent brilliance, but it’s there, and when it is, it’s true brilliance. Against the Day isn’t for a reader looking for a great novel, but it will reward readers by being an intermittently great novel.

That’s not why I’m writing about it, though. If I wanted to celebrate Pynchon’s greatness, we’d both be better served if I looked almost anywhere else. No, I’m writing about it because I read it again this year, my fourth or fifth time, probably, and I saw something in it that I’d never seen before. A theme, and an important one, made itself apparent.

And the book became something else to me.

Not better, necessarily. But something different. And as I read with this theme in mind, I found myself experiencing a version of Against the Day that I had not before.

The novel is full of themes. My inability to pick up on it earlier isn’t due to the fact that I wasn’t reading carefully; it’s due to the fact that other things were demanding my attention. There’s the theme of light. The theme of power. (Electrical power and social power.) There’s the theme of justice. The theme of capitalism. The theme of transience. The theme of doubling, doubled lives, doubled events, doubled worlds…

And all of that is still in there. So much more is there as well.

But this recent time…I found something else. Something that I needed to find when I found it. Something that helped me to understand the book in a new way, and maybe to understand myself.

It was time. Specifically, our inability to conquer it.

Time.

We are always at the mercy of time. And reading the book through that filter, every moment took on a new meaning for me. Sometimes because it very specifically tied into the theme. Other times it was just because the theme reminded me that these moments, any of these moments, all of these moments, would never happen again. Everything is temporary. Everything ends.

Pavilions set up to be dismantled. Cities whose cultures are destroyed by tourists. Civilizations that met a nasty end long before we were around to observe or record it. Battles we are destined to lose. Rebellions fated to be crushed, by those who are later crushed themselves. Ambitions that bring us so close to progress that, at once, are torn down by those who don’t wish to understand. A child’s doll left behind. A particular sunset we’ll never see again. A train pulling out of the station and the knowledge that whoever is present will never be here, never exactly here, again.

All that will exist will pass. All that exists now has already passed. Tomorrow will pass as well. We can’t help it. We can’t stop it. Our lives, as we live them, are pulling away.

I recognized it early in the novel this time, as one character reflects on his daughter getting a haircut. The narration fixes us within his mind, within his sphere of observations, as we learn about the barbershop, how it looks, where it’s located, what it smells like, the kinds of people who frequent it, what else goes on here, and then…it’s over. The haircut is over before we ever really saw it. We let ourselves get distracted. We looked around. We occupied our time with other things. And that moment was gone before we even thought to live it.

The simplest little thing, inconsequential, unimportant, becomes consequential and important simply because we missed it, because it’s one of many things we are destined to miss, because one day we, too, will die, and so much of our lives will have passed without us even thinking to pay attention.

That character’s little girl moves away. Not even all that far into the book. Not even all that many years later. A few blinks of the eye. A few nights nobody thinks to prolong. One day, she will be gone. And he won’t have this memory of her, because he didn’t think to pay attention.

I believe Against the Day is Pynchon realizing that he won’t live forever. That he’s an old man now, and that the vast majority of his life, his creativity, his productivity, is behind him. Against the Day is his meditation on his own mortality, in the only way that he can meditate: by having lots of characters crash into each other and stumble around and work hard to find some kind of direction that always–always–seems to elude them.

Against the Day becomes a deeply sad book if you read it like that, but it also, to me, became a more important one. It’s a jumbled reflection on a lifetime’s worth of missed, forgotten, and ignored moments. For everything you remember, there’s more that you forget. For everything that you do, there’s more that you don’t. For everyone you meet, there are more missed connections that could have changed everything.

His novel even features characters that don’t grow up…that are frozen, in a sense, in time. Forever young, as the world ages around them.

It must be nice, Pynchon may think, to be able to float above…observing…recording…touched by emotion but untouched by time.

Lonely, painful, with many generations’ worth of loss and longing and sorrow that you’ll never be free of…but, still, it must be nice…

In one scene, two dogs meet. One of them lives in the city, and has dreams of flying. The other lives on an airship, and dreams of living on the ground.

The Big Sleep, Raymond ChandlerChoose Your Own Advent is a yuletide celebration of literacy. We’ll spotlight a different novel every day until Christmas, hopefully helping you find one you’d like to read in the new year.

Title: The Big Sleep
Author: Raymond Chandler
Year: 1939

A few years ago I had a project planned for National Novel Writing Month. I participate in that whenever I can, and I never regret doing so. (Even if I don’t hit my goals.) This particular project was a bit of a pastiche of the detective fiction genre. I was cheating, because I hadn’t read much detective fiction; I just thought I’d have some fun with it. It wasn’t anything I’d need to take seriously.

Fast forward a few years. My humble little draft from a silly writing exercise actually evolved into something of…well, merit. I liked it. I liked it quite a lot, actually. And instead of just being some silly riff on established conventions, it had a story and characters that I was proud of. It was worth turning into something real.

I mention this now because Detective Fiction–my manuscript–actually spurred my legitimate interest in detective fiction. When I started writing my novel, I had read very little of it. After National Novel Writing Month I read more. I came to understand and appreciate it. I came to respect it. And my writing became more respectful as a result.

See, I think I got it in my head that detective fiction…well, that it wasn’t very good.

I think I thought it was enjoyable. Thrilling. Fun. You know…things along those lines. It was like a piece of candy. Pleasant enough, but no replacement for a full, proper meal.

Then I actually read some of it. And more of it. By now I’ve read a lot of it. And I like it.

Raymond Chandler is where I started. Specifically, I started with The Big Sleep. It’s not my favorite of his (that would be The Long Goodbye, but I’ve already written extensively about that one). I’ll always have a place for it in my heart, though, because it’s the novel that showed me that detective fiction done well is really just literature.

Impressive, engrossing, important literature.

The Big Sleep was the first of Chandler’s novels, and was obviously then the first to feature his famous protagonist Philip Marlowe. It incorporated many aspects and plot beats of Chandler’s earlier short stories, but the net effect is one of surprising cohesion. It doesn’t feel stitched together from disparate source material, even though–to be blunt–it was.

Many of his novels were constructed this way. It’s just how Chandler operated. The same way a musician or a comedian might try out new material on stage, where the stakes are relatively small, Chandler sent short stories out into the wild to learn what worked and didn’t work before he immortalized them in novels.

The best part is that if you didn’t know already that he did this, you wouldn’t be able to tell.

Chandler understood his craft, and he knew that what made a short story successful wasn’t the kind of thing that would make a novel successful. The fact that he could turn one into the other and make it seem so effortless is, to be totally honest, deeply remarkable to me. Chandler was a great writer, and possibly an even better rewriter.

With Philip Marlowe, Chandler left his mark on the medium. That’s thanks in large part to the indelible performance of Humphrey Bogart, who played the character in the first cinematic adaptation of The Big Sleep. Between that and his performance as Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon five years earlier, Bogart provided a template for how troubled noir detectives should be played, and it’s hard to argue that anyone–ever–has improved upon his interpretation.

You don’t get much Marlowe in this book. Or, rather, you get a lot of what Marlowe says, and does, and thinks. But he’s less a character than he is a gradually more astute foil to the Sternwood family, who enlists him to help them out of a sticky blackmail situation, and to whom he’s able to trace back a web of crime and deceit that renders their initial concern irrelevant.

Of course, their patriarch, General Sternwood, knew nothing of this. He thought he was protecting his family rather than exposing them when he called Marlowe in. The general is an old man…a sickly invalid from an earlier, more honorable generation. His two daughters, born into money, seem dead set against inheriting his dignity.

It’s a strong enough mystery, but an even better study of generational gap, of parental love backfiring, of the rich being able to afford not caring about the consequences of their actions. It’s profound without necessarily being deep. It’s a simple story with an undercurrent of tragedy that touches much more than the actions of two spoiled children.

It’s, to be frank, great.

It’s also a Fiction into Film I’ll be doing at some point, as one of the great pleasures of reading The Big Sleep right now is identifying all of the ways that it influenced The Big Lebowski. (Note as well the similarity of the titles.) That’s a film about an aimless stoner drifting into a noir mystery for which he’s not equipped, and in which he’s not all that interested. It’s basically The Big Sleep with the wrong protagonist, and reading Chandler’s original will–repeat, will–give you greater appreciation for the Coen brothers’ inspired riff.

The Big Sleep lends itself well to reinterpretation and to parody–whether that’s on my part or the Coens’–and that’s because it’s such rich source material.

I get the feeling that a lot of people, even around the time of its publication, picked up The Big Sleep expecting little more than I expected. Some guns, some goons. Some tough talk. Dames. Double crosses. A mystery pieced together by an outsider.

Maybe it would be enjoyable. Thrilling. Fun. You know…things along those lines.

Instead, it taught us that the genre could achieve greatness. And, to this day, there’s been no better evidence of that than the works of Raymond Chandler.

The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, Laurence SterneChoose Your Own Advent is a yuletide celebration of literacy. We’ll spotlight a different novel every day until Christmas, hopefully helping you find one you’d like to read in the new year.

Title: The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman
Author: Laurence Sterne
Year: 1759

The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman is a masterpiece. Full stop. It is one of English literature’s greatest achievements, and a riotous deconstruction of the writing process in general. It relishes the subversion of expectation, pulses with comic tension, and plays its biggest (and best) jokes on the readers themselves.

Now look at the date of publication. It will give you a very good idea of just how far ahead of its time this was. Sterne was breaking conventions before many authors, readers, or critics had any idea of what those conventions were.

There’s one piece of advice that every young author, rightly, receives at some early point, and this novel seems like it was written as a longform monkey’s-paw response; Tristram Shandy is “write what you know” taken to its absurdist (and absurdest) conclusion.

The novel itself is actually a memoir, written by the fictional Tristram Shandy. Our autobiographer takes it upon himself to set down the events of his life in text, and nine volumes of that memoir later he’s barely even started.

And that’s the main joke of the experience. You sit down to read about the life and opinions of Tristram Shandy, and indeed he sat down to write them. But other things occupy his mind. Digressions give way to further digressions, which lead him naturally to speak about and explain things that had nothing to do with the story he originally meant to tell. Tristram Shandy is a constant, recursive twist through a nimble mind…the product of a fictional writer who enjoys writing so much that he cannot stop doing it, even when his pen takes him, as it so quickly does, to places he never intended to go. Tristram’s memoir, in a sense, is writing itself, with our narrator pulled along behind his own runaway tale.

And it’s beautiful.

One gets the sense that Sterne himself was improvising as well. Not entirely, of course, and he clearly builds to certain setpieces, but one does have to wonder how many of the book’s aimless flights belong to Tristram, and how many belong to Sterne.

But it’s an artful lack of focus, which is why it works so well. The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman does everything no book should ever do. It obsesses over irrelevant details. It gets lost in unnecessary explanation. It can’t decide what it wants to say…or even what it is, as Tristram’s autobiography turns into many, many, many other things, none of which, of course, are autobiographies.

It does these things deliberately, however, which is what makes all the difference. We’ve all read frustratingly aimless books. Many of them are actually fairly popular, whether or not the critics understand their success. Writing is difficult, after all, and there’s always a temptation for authors to include what they believe to be some well-written passage or other, even when it doesn’t naturally fit the novel they’re writing.

Tristram Shandy, then, is the phoenix that rises from the ashes of amateur mistakes…and that’s a damned big pile of ashes.

The novel opens with Tristram’s conception…an event for which, of course, he was not present, but there’s no reason he can’t set it down in immaculate detail, complete with his own interpretations of his parents’ thought processes.

He won’t be born for another several volumes, so in the meantime we learn about his father’s obsession with choosing for his son the perfect name (which, as this is a comedy, is not “Tristram”), his mother’s difficulties in retaining her preferred midwife, the tragedy of the family’s forgetful maid, the sickly horse of the family’s parson, the war wound his uncle Toby received at the Siege of Namur, the hobby that Toby then developed of re-enacting the battle with whatever implements were at hand, which eventually leads to the unexpected circumcision of Tristram…but, whoops, there I go, too, explaining much more than I had intended.

Tristram’s problem, as you might imagine, is that if it takes him hundreds of pages to even tell the story of his first day on Earth, how will he ever cover the rest of his life? It’s a good joke, but it takes on a fairly sad real-world resonance if you know that Sterne himself was consumptive, and slowly dying as Tristram Shandy was, volume by volume, released to the world. He died the year after the last volume was published, and there have been suggestions that he intended to write more…that Tristram only stopped writing because his creator did.

There’s an undercurrent of tragedy in Tristram Shandy…an assurance that no matter how much we’d like to cling something, we’re destined to be swept forward, or at least away. There’s the parallel condemnation / celebration of myopia, as Tristram finds tens of thousands of words in the smallest of observations, but loses his chance to write about so many other things as a result. There’s the reminder that however much time we spend doing something, it’s time we cannot spend doing anything else.

And, of course, that it’s time we can’t get back.

It’s also, however, a reminder of the enduring power of writing. Tristram and Sterne are still remembered, still read, still enjoyed centuries later. They can still speak to us. They can still share with us. They can still make us laugh, even as they remind us that the time we spend reading what they say is time spent away from our own lives.

But that might be a good thing. That may in fact be the novel’s greatest gift.

Life happens without structure. To seek to impose structure upon it is to invite it to fight back, to resist regimentation, to rebel against your purest intentions.

That’s a struggle all writers face. Sterne embraced it, and gave the world literature’s finest self-reflexive satire.

Not all of us are authors, but we each seek to impose our own structure as well. Nearly always we find, instead, chaos.

Sterne would invite you to embrace that.

Flatland, Edwin A. AbbottChoose Your Own Advent is a yuletide celebration of literacy. We’ll spotlight a different novel every day until Christmas, hopefully helping you find one you’d like to read in the new year.

Title: Flatland
Author: Edwin A. Abbott
Year: 1884

Every author who sets pen to page must accomplish at least one basic thing: they must describe their characters and their settings well enough that readers will buy into them.

Sure, they’re writing fiction, but it still has to be understandable, recognizable, identifiable fiction. There’s a reason one novel might be dismissed as “unrealistic” while another–with extremely similar subject matter–might be embraced. They may both describe equally unreal things (they’re fiction, after all) but one of them described those unreal things more effectively, so that they no longer felt unreal.

And that’s what readers and critics are actually saying when they call novels unrealistic, unbelievable, or any number of things that shouldn’t actually function as criticism of a story an author invented wholecloth. No…what they’re really saying is that the author didn’t succeed in describing these things effectively. It’s not a failure of realism; it’s a failure of communication.

This applies to stories as grounded as, say, ones about a guy walking around Dublin all day or ones about families getting together for one last Thanksgiving in the same house, so you can imagine how much more of a challenge was faced by Edwin A. Abbott when he wrote Flatland. He didn’t just have to convince us that his characters were doing what he said they were doing…he had to convince us that other dimensions existed, and help us to actually visualize what they might be like.

Flatland is fiction, and fairly good fiction, but it’s also a longform thought exercise. (Well, it’s two longform thought exercises, but we’ll come to that.) It’s a work of science fiction written before that genre was anywhere near as well established as it is today. When Abbott decided to write about other dimensions–dimensions beyond our current experience–he was working in largely uncharted territory. He didn’t just have to describe it; he had to invent a way in which to describe it.

And he did so brilliantly. He described a hypothetical fourth dimension by describing, instead, a very observable second dimension. Abbott wishes us to look outward, and he does so by teaching us to look inward.

Flatland is the story of A. Square, an actual square…a two-dimensional figure who receives a visit from a sphere. Poor A. Square then has to figure out how to understand a dimension he cannot observe and has never even imagined could exist: the completely hypothetical and totally impossible third dimension.

A. Square’s awakening–his gradually dawning but always incomplete understanding of what a third dimension could possibly be like–is meant to trigger a concurrent awakening in the reader. If a two-dimensional being were to successfully visualize a third dimension, what intellectual tools would he need in order to do so? What language could we use to explain it to him? What metaphors would be helpful, and what would only confuse him?

It’s a valid thought exercise, because we can approach it with knowledge we already have. We know the third dimension. We’ve lived every moment of our lives processing it. Therefore, once again, our problem in this thought exercise isn’t whether something is real or not…it’s a problem of communication.

And once we solve that problem…once we can make a square understand a sphere…

…well, isn’t it our job as occupants of this third dimension to begin pondering a fourth? A fifth? What would those look like? What would our three-dimensional limitations then mean?

Flatland does a great job of making the reader feel limited. As much as we can laugh at the struggles of the square it’s impossible to come away without feeling like we’d struggle as well to understand a larger truth. Because…well…isn’t there a larger truth? The square certainly didn’t think so, and for much of the book refuses to even consider the possibility that there is more to the universe that he can’t observe. Are we foolish for refusing similar things in a similar way?

The answer, Flatland conclusively assures is, is that we are.

A. Square learns of his two-dimensional limitations when the sphere sweeps him away to Lineland (a land of one dimension) and Pointland (a land of no dimensions), in which he encounters occupants who cannot (and will not) process the possible existence of a second dimension…while the square itself cannot and will not process the possible existence of a third. Readers will necessarily come to wonder if they’re nearly as barren of imagination…not to mention limited in their intellectual abilities.

The point doesn’t think he’s wrong for dismissing the possible existence of a line. The line doesn’t think he’s wrong for dismissing the possible existence of a square. The square doesn’t think he’s wrong for dismissing the possible existence of a sphere.

What are you dismissing?

Flatland is great science fiction, in the sense that it expands your capacity for viewing the world in which you actually live. It’s fiction, but its ideas are meant to clear the filters from our reality. It doesn’t ask us to change our ideas of how the universe works…it asks to question what the universe is. The fact that it succeeds, in under 100 pages no less, is nothing short of miraculous.

What’s more…that’s not all it does. Around half of the book asks us to think dimensionally, but the other half asks us to think socially. This is an interesting side effect of Abbott having to describe his settings and characters well enough that we’ll understand. After all…a society of two dimensional objects is easy enough to visualize, but not easy to understand in a functional sense.

And so Abbott tells us about the history of Flatland, and it’s actually here that his writing is at its best and most narratively engaging. He teaches us of Flatland’s caste system. Its social order. Its willingness to push back against–and, if necessary, destroy–artists and free thinkers and those who question the way things are. The way things have always been done. The way, you know, those in power would prefer us to exist.

Fortunately that section’s just for fun, and isn’t meant to expand our capacity for viewing the world in which we live at all.

Middlesex, Jeffrey EugenidesChoose Your Own Advent is a yuletide celebration of literacy. We’ll spotlight a different novel every day until Christmas, hopefully helping you find one you’d like to read in the new year.

Title: Middlesex
Author: Jeffrey Eugenides
Year: 2002

When I was in college, a professor of mine gave me a number of books she thought I’d enjoy. At this point, I don’t remember why she did that. Maybe she didn’t even have a reason. I just remember that as a semester drew to a close, she gave me a stack of books she’d purchased for me.

It was an extraordinarily nice gesture, and one I still appreciate. I do recall that she apologized because she wasn’t able to find a copy of another book she wanted to give me: The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, by Carson McCullers. I’ve since bought a copy, but I haven’t gotten around to reading it. I think that when I do read it, I’ll be done with her recommendations, and that connection will break. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter may be a great novel. I could be richer for reading it. But sometimes positive connections are more important. I wouldn’t want to forget her gesture by virtue of finally resolving it.

She told me to read the novels at my leisure, which, of course, I would have done anyway, but she encouraged me to read one of them fairly soon. That was Middlesex. Jeffrey Eugenides was coming to the school to give a reading in a couple of months, she said, and familiarizing myself with the book first might be a good idea.

So I read it, not expecting much. At the time–and probably still–Eugenides was best known for The Virgin Suicides. I hadn’t read that. In fact, I’d kind of avoided it. There was something about the title–and I’m pretty sure about the cover–that turned me off. It seemed a bit too sensational. It was a title, I felt, that gracelessly crammed references to sex and death together because that’s what sells.

Which is fine.

Authors and publishers both need to eat.

But I don’t tend to enjoy books with sensational titles. Often they mask a lack of quality–and sometimes integrity–within. I like books that make me think, not ones that appeal to base instincts.

At the risk of getting too far ahead of myself, I eventually did read The Virgin Suicides. It was good. Not nearly as good as Middlesex, but I think it was worth reading. And I stand by my concerns about the title. It’s a book that deserves something more respectful on its cover.

So, yes, I liked Middlesex. In fact, I kind of adored it. It wasn’t just a great novel (though, I have to make clear, it was certainly a great novel). It was fun. It was extremely funny. It was unexpectedly moving.

It is, in a sense, the story of Cal Stephanides, who is born intersex. He’s treated and raised–and identifies early on–as a girl. It’s only as he grows up that certain incongruities make themselves known, and he begins to live life as a man.

Reading that summary will probably cause you to ask questions. Eugenides answers every one of them in artful, respectful, insightful ways.

But it’s more than just Cal’s story. It’s the story of his family, going back generations. It’s a genetic journey through the past, tracing not only who Cal is, but why he is who he is, biologically speaking.

Middlesex becomes, then, also a study of generational evolution. Of family conflict. Of shifting and changing and regressing social mores. It’s the study of a family, sure, but it’s also a study of the many ways in which the world changes around us…and we either accept that, or we don’t. It’s one thing when we go to bed, and we wake up the next day to find that it’s something else.

It’s a story of people, and, to be fair, I found Middlesex the least interesting when it focused on Cal alone, in the present day, recounting his story. But Cal should take that as a compliment; he’s such a compelling narrator that it feels disappointing when he narrows his focus. It’s much more interesting, and rewarding, and engaging to just let him loose his tongue and guide along through the decades.

I enjoyed it immensely. I convinced my girlfriend at the time to read it as well, and she also enjoyed it. We went together to see Jeffrey Eugenides read from it, and we were excited to at least see him and appreciate him from a distance.

We knew what he looked like from his author photo. He was a handsome guy. More handsome than a talented writer should be. (It’s greedy to be both talented and handsome.)

And so we hung around toward the back of the room, waiting for things to get started. I’m not much of a socializer, so my girlfriend and I spoke to each other. We intermittently exchanged pleasantries with other students we knew. At some point I noticed an older man standing next to me. He asked me what time it was. He seemed friendly.

I checked my phone and told him. He asked me if I lived around there. I told him I lived about 20 minutes away. We spoke a bit more. About the weather, maybe. Nothing important.

At one point he said it was nice to meet me, and then got up on stage and read from Middlesex. It was Jeffrey Eugenides, and I had no idea. He was still handsome, don’t get me wrong, but he looked a lot different in person.

I still remember the two passages he read. (It was the baptism scene and the assembly line sequence, if anyone out there cares to know.)

He was a great reader. He invested a lot of himself into the way he presented the text. He made it come alive in ways that my imagination did not…and when it comes to making novels come alive I have a hell of an imagination.

When he was done he signed copies of the book for anyone who brought one. We waited in line. I had my copy of Gravity’s Rainbow with me, which I was reading for the first time, as well. He saw it when it was my turn, and he said, “Talk about a comic epic in prose.” That was how he referred to Middlesex during his reading. It was a nice parallel, and nicer to know that we enjoyed the same author.

He signed my book. I still have it. I forget how or why it came up, but I told him the reason I hadn’t read The Virgin Suicides, and that I intended to now. He looked at me, paused for a moment, and said, “I agree about the title.”

There was an afterparty. I didn’t go. But my professor did, and Jeffrey Eugenides spoke to her. She told me about it the next time I saw her. He told her that I impressed him. I don’t know how or why, but it’s probably the most flattering thing I’ve ever heard.

She told him that I was a writer, and he gave her a piece of advice to pass on to me.

To this day, I remember it. I’ve followed it ever since.

But I don’t want to repeat it. I don’t want to break that connection.

I wouldn’t want to forget his gesture by virtue of finally resolving it.

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