I’ve crossed another classic off of my “to read” list, and boy am I happy I read this one. This was pure satisfaction from start to finish. John Steinbeck’s East of Eden is an amazing book that embodies the intersection of literary weightiness and readability. There are plenty of epics out there that span generations: Colleen McCullough’s The Thorn Birds or Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits, for example. Those books are a joy to read and you can luxuriate in the authors’ virtuosity as characters are added to weaving storylines, but East of Eden seemed to have more weight to it. Unlike many epics, which seem to thrive on love, unrequited or forbidden, Steinbeck’s book focuses on the struggles of brothers seeking their father’s admirmation. From the title alone, it is obvious that this notion is Biblical, and the book’s Biblical quality becomes its center. For the first time in a very long time, I did not rush through the book’s last chapters, eager to get to my next conquest. I felt that pang that you sometimes get when you finish a truly magnificent book, the pang that is part sadness at the experience of reading the book being over and part a feeling of that book permanently lodging itself in your memory to be drawn from and remembered with reverence. There are, I think, very few books that can produce this sublime reading experience, but East of Eden is on that short list.
There’ll always be a place for the sad sack in fiction, heroes of topsy-turvy Bildungsromans who regress or stall rather than develop. Call them protagonists of the comic or the failed coming-of-age tale, which has its obvious forbears in a work like Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy but also in the merciless irony of Gustave Flaubert’s Sentimental Education. In the classic version of the Bildungsroman, the hero seeks to define himself in a variety of ways -- personally, educationally, professionally, romantically, or creatively if he happens to be an artist. The hero of the comic Bildungsroman tends to resist, or fail to achieve, these definitional ends. It is full of outsized characters who never quite fit into the narrative bounds imposed by the form: “Where will you ever end?” Ignatius Reilly is asked in The Confederacy of Dunces, a question that homes in on the particularly expansive comic spirit that refuses to conform or be confined to established conventions. The same question could be put to Aldo Benjamin, who at one point in Steve Toltz’s Quicksand pleads, “My kingdom for a terminus!” Aldo is one of the two failures in the Australian novelist’s latest, an eminently successful novel about “the pilgrim’s frustrating lack of progress.” There’s a touch of Reilly in Aldo, but given Aldo’s mixture of libidinousness, thanatos, and linguistic virtuosity, Philip Roth’s priapic puppeteer Mickey Sabbath comes to mind as a closer precursor. Like all good comic characters, Aldo, a hapless entrepreneur, proves difficult to contain or circumscribe, not only because of the profusion of his misadventures but because he fancies himself as a real-life Tithonus, a “poor deathless, imperishable creature.” After a string of failed suicides -- “suicide’s block” he calls it -- Aldo thinks he has inadvertently caught a case of immortality: “In the face of forever, the contours of one’s life slacken and become not just poorly defined, but permanently resistant to definition.” This indefinition proves a challenge for his friend Liam, an incompetent policeman -- “I hit the siren. It startled me, as usual” -- and failed novelist who is writing a book about him. Liam, noting that “[Aldo’s] existence needed room” and that “[h]e can’t tie up all his loose ends because he has an odd number of them,” eventually “[comes] to terms with the fact that there may be no place for every random anecdote and strange story about Aldo in my book.” There is a Whitmanian copiousness to Aldo evidenced in his “absurd” endurance despite and through “forty years of death throes” or in the host of oddly specific phobias he believes he has inherited from his ancestors: …fear of unraveling rope bridges, fear of causing an avalanche by sneezing, fear of accidentally procreating with a half sister, fear of being shot in the face by a hunter… Those fears never materialize, but pretty much every other nightmare scenario does as he is shuttled between the prison and the hospital, “two overpopulated hells.” (As he wryly reflects in the midst of one of his ordeals: “Even my subconscious hadn’t the temerity to go so far as to render me paralyzed at a rape trial.”) And yet like Mickey Sabbath, Aldo persists. He is a man of stubborn, and occasionally exhausting, exuberance. “My charm wears off like a local anesthetic,” he concedes after delivering over 140 pages of riveting, mordantly funny, and self-pitying testimony-cum-autobiography -- the “short version” -- to a beleaguered jury of his peers. In her review, Lionel Shriver oddly objected to this bravura section by saying its “length strains credulity,” as if courtroom scenes have ever had more than a passing resemblance to realism. (I bet she’s fun to watch The Good Wife with.) Shriver’s critique ignores the novel’s logic of excess, which is established in the very first scene. We first see Aldo, paralyzed from the waist down after his latest accident, drinking at a beachside bar with Liam. Aldo has just come up with one of his idiosyncratic business ideas (e.g., peanut-allergy divining wand), but won’t, or can’t, tell it to Liam without first surrendering to his patience-testing compulsion to riff: 'You know how we are such optimists that even out Armageddons aren’t final?...You know how people used to want to be rock stars, but now they just want rock stars to play at their birthday parties?...And how when someone’s coping mechanism fails, they just keep using it anyway?...And how businesssapiens are always having power nightmares?...Bad dreams during power naps…You know how when people talk of First World problems they forget to mention Alzheimer’s and dementia?...You know how unrequited love has no real-world applications?...' These are selections from about 25 “you know” questions, all leading up to the final unveiling of his grand idea: disposable toilets, a fitting invention for a master bullshitter who always finds himself mired in the muck. The toilet invention provides one clue, and the title a more obvious one, that Quicksand is a story of precipitous decline. Aldo is “not just the falling clown, but the falling clown who other falling clowns fall on,” a man whose life only gets worse after being erroneously charged with rape when he is still a virgin. From then on, he is constantly on trial (another dubious sex crime, murder(s)), in debt, or recovering from suicide attempts, my favorite being the “irreproachably considerate” plan he devises to take sleeping pills and slide himself into a hospital morgue drawer. Liam is slightly discomfited by watching “…a man on a decline from so low a starting point,” but also recognizes the narrative potential: “The only people worth watching are those who have reached rock bottom and bounced off it, because they always bounce off into very strange orbits.” Aldo may be “a disaster waiting to happen, or a disaster that had just happened, or a disaster that was currently happening.” However, to be singled out for such a fate is its own kind of election. Etymologically, disaster means ill-starred, the empyrean heights determining the trajectory of mortals spiraling downward. Whether he is a modern-day Job or a tragic Greek hero who “locked eyes with the wrong god,” Aldo is a marked man both figuratively and literally. The history of his scars reveals a partial record of his singularly bad luck: “…motorcycles, skinheads, wrong turn, stray billiard ball, ambush by a part of thorns, Molotov cocktail, car antenna, gravel rash, cigar.” Liam, on the other hand, is unmarked, a man whose own sad tale is eclipsed by that of his brilliantly inauspicious friend. Both lost sisters during adolescence, both have been “dodging success with drone-like precision for nearly two decades,” and both have not been “changed by [their] life-changing experiences.” However, Liam’s quiet desperation is ordinary. When Liam visits Aldo in the hospital after one accident, the latter instantly sees that he has the upper, or rather lower, hand: “His sad face conceded that my downward spiral had crushed his downward spiral. Ah, the pyrrhic victories of old friendships.” They spar with, aid, use, or bore one another during a friendship that is unbreakable despite, or rather because, there remains something “permanently unexpressed between” them. We learn less and less about Liam as the novel focuses on its “natural subject,” Aldo, so that when Liam is surprised to discover that “people in general think I’m a ridiculous human being,” we do not know enough either to doubt or credit this general view of him. What can’t be called ridiculous is his devotion to Aldo, which is the only thing that keeps him from being a cipher: “You’re a good friend to Aldo,” his former teacher tells him. “That doesn’t make up for what you lack, but it’s not nothing.” Which isn’t to say that Liam is selfless in his devotion. Like every other artist who comes across Aldo in the novel, he wants to “cannibalize” his life. An inveterate manipulator, Aldo is also an inveterate muse and obliging model; he lets himself be painted and photographed by Liam’s “copious rivals,” a group of bohemians residing in an artist’s colony, even describing his own features to a police sketch artist just for the fun of it. Portraitists circle him like vultures, sensing that his rotten life will provide artistic sustenance. “If they are artists, the truly unfortunate have a wealth of material,” reads an aphorism from Artist Within, Artist Without, Liam’s and Aldo’s vade mecum written by their old high school teacher, Mr. Morell. But what of the “truly unfortunate” supplying the material? “Unused talent exerts downward pressure on the spirit,” is another of Morell’s nuggets. But squandered talent isn’t quite what drives Aldo, and consequently Liam, down to the level “where things get primordial.” Rather, it’s precisely by deploying his talent, which happens to be for erring, that sends the “King of Unforced Errors” back to the elemental: a barren rocky island at a remove from the society in which he was so incongruous. This tragicomic Bildungsroman fails as it should, spectacularly, its “half-human, half-crustacean” hero devolving in splendid isolation as, back on shore, the world goes calmly on.
Understanding how people live with disabilities has engaged me since my father had a stroke. I grew curious about the gap between me and my father, and my father and his old self. I began exploring this gap through writing essays for a disability rights newspaper about my father’s, and my family’s experiences. I had the chance to snuggle close to another physical change when my husband had a bad work accident and almost lost his hand. I wrote about that until I felt my words were too invasive, and asked my editor for other assignments. He suggested I interview people, and I’ve had the chance to profile a number of people with brain injuries, an English teacher with MS, and a blind man who climbed Kilimanjaro and kayaked the English Channel. This month my assignment is to write about a deaf drummer, Dame Evelyn Glennie. Reading is another way I try to bridge the human canyon between my temporarily able-bodied self and this broadly defined other. I’m not well-versed in the growing field of disability literature, but I am growing familiar with pockets of writers who tackle the subject of their disabilities. Poet Peggy Shumaker wrote a captivating and lyrical memoir, Just Breathe Normally that touches on moments from a nearly fatal bicycle accident and the slow process of recovering her physical and mental functions, including the very act of writing. I fell for Anne Finger’s flat, frank self-examination when I read Elegy for a Disease: A Personal and Cultural History of Polio. Her assessment of her life with a disease, and the life of that disease, written in a very immediate present tense, brought me right into her experiences. This same quick personal style grabbed me at the beginning of Anne Finger’s collection of short stories, Call Me Ahab. Her fifth title and the winner of the Prairie Schooner Book Prize in fiction, the book imagines disability in the lives of many real and literary figures. As readers we know of Helen Keller from her teacher’s perspective, of Captain Ahab’s monomania from Ishmael. Finger serves these stories, and those of other disability icons, from the eye of the beholder, confronting ideas we are spoon-fed as a culture, that Frida Kahlo is sexy, but Helen Keller is a tamed animal. Finger is a talented storyteller, delivering voices and situations with smooth conviction. The scenes she creates jump time and place without jarring the reader. An imagined Vincent Van Gogh, the lead character in “Vincent” traipses between Van Gogh’s lifetime and a modern New York City, where the painter’s brother Theo leaves him to the whims of the social services system. “Goliath” recasts the biblical tale of David and Goliath in a post-apocalyptic manner, dotted with habits and phrases from our present; a renewed medievalism carries its own odd language and realm, peppered with remnants of our destroyed civilization, like announcements of the weather mixed with ancient habits of studying dead animals to understand a person’s disease. Vincent’s mental illness and Goliath’s gigantism are central to these stories but also incidental; the disabilities sit in the stories as elements that render and support each fiction’s emotional truth. The author is intent on carefully inhabiting her characters. Thus we get to speculate what Goliath might physically feel, and wonder how an artistic genius might have weathered a society with a hostile approach to the package of his person, deficits and gifts. Graceful sentences, often with awkward or shocking subjects, flow throughout the book, such as this thought the narrator places in Helen Keller’s mind in the first story, “Helen and Frida.” Her ardent young circle of socialists wants to do away with the sordid marketplace of prostitution – bourgeois marriage – where women barter their hymens and throw in their souls to sweeten the deal. Later in the same story the narrator states, “When I was a kid I thought being a grown up would be like living in the movies…” The placement of such a universal line in the mouth of someone who deconstructs representations of people who use wheelchairs or are blind takes this story about identity politics and puts the question of identity, which is very much on the tip of the narrator’s tongue, into the reader’s lap. While elements of some of the stories feel slightly obvious and forced, like the member of a Boston Brahmin family dying of AIDS, and Ahab waxing homosexual in his thoughts, these flaws do not reduce the weight and charm of the collection. Writers manufacture stories, and some parts of even the most deftly written stories will feel manufactured. On the balance, Finger has strength in her storytelling, and hopefully that strength will reach a wide audience.
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Ravensbrück concentration camp was built on a plain about 50 miles north of Berlin, in a wooded area near a lake. The largest concentration camp for women on German soil, Ravensbrück was a source of wartime slave labor for Siemens, and the site of some particularly cruel Nazi medical experiments. About 150,000 people, from over 30 countries, were registered as having passed through the camp. Tens of thousands perished within. Today the memorial that occupies the site combines leafy serenity with an assortment of memorial fixtures: sculptures; stelae; refurbished buildings containing artifacts. But the memorial’s most arresting feature may be the grounds of the former main camp, which remain empty but for the foundations of the barracks, which have been excavated but recovered with cinders, preserving their floor plan in surface relief. The original plan, as envisioned by the architects who designed that portion of the memorial, was to have the excavation conducted by volunteers, gradually over decades, with the cinders coming from a large slag heap that would be visible to visitors. The intention, according to one commentator, was that the continual application of cinders from the heap would “layer” the “present over the past, encouraging us to reflect on the conundrum that this past cannot be brought to light without applying an arguably subjective language of representation.” With Angel of Oblivion, Maja Haderlap achieves something very similar. The present described by the novel’s nameless first-person narrator is that of a girl growing up in the Slovenian minority community in the Austrian province of Carinthia in the late-1960s or early-1970s. Her subjective experiences -- initially, the vivid sensory impressions of childhood, and later the ambivalent observations of a young adult -- provide the story’s premise, and its structure, its texture. But beneath this surface layer, as far as the eye can see, lies the war with all of its various forms of devastation, trauma, and loss. And by the story’s end, Haderlap has succeeded in bringing into sharp relief some powerful truths about the war’s continued grip on those who survived it, and its impact, even decades later, upon their descendants. “The war is a devious fisher of men,” says her narrator. “It has cast out its net for the adults and traps them with its fragments of death, its debris of memory. Just one careless act, one brief moment of inattention, and it pulls in its net.” Angel of Oblivion’s first word, and the most prominent character of its early chapters, is “Grandmother.” The narrator's grandmother is tough; spirited; opinionated. Her forehead is “as wrinkled as the shingled roof of the grain silo,” and her force of will provides the centripetal force that keeps the family's farm from chaos. She cooks with authority, tossing around pork schmaltz and scraping mold off of preserves, and “even the eggs smell like earth, smoke and yeasty air.” She believes in God and ghosts equally. Her dishes “can connect the here and now with the hereafter, heal visible and invisible wounds, [but] they can make you ill.” If she suspects a chicken is not laying, she “pounces” on it and jams two fingers in its behind. Grandmother may be the only family member who bothers to pay attention to her granddaughter, our narrator, and the girl follows her around as if Grandmother is a “queen bee” and her granddaughter “her drone.” Grandmother lets her have barley coffee, their little secret. Sometimes they dance together. Grandmother is a survivor of Ravensbrück, and dance, we are told, is one of her survival skills. She leaves food out for the dead, so they will leave her alone. Grandmother is the family's keeper of artifacts. She has saved her late husband's Deutsches Reich Employment Record Book, inside which are recorded the dates of important family events, such as when they acquired the farm. She still has her diary from Ravensbrück, as well as her too-thin winter coat from the camp, which she keeps but does not wear. In her room she has squirreled away extra provisions, just in case. Grandmother is also the keeper of stories: about how the Nazis killed their neighbors and pursued the Slovenian-speaking partisans into the hills; about the dog-bites and the experiments in the camps; about those who were arrested with her and did not come back; about the humiliation of begging for bits of grain upon her return. Here, she is shown a book about Ravensbrück: It was this guard, Grandmother says, laying her index finger on the woman's face, which disappeared beneath it. She was very young and very evil, very depraved. Good Lord, what people won't do, Grandmother exclaims and spits on the photograph. Then she wipes the pages with her sleeve so they won't stick together. Sometimes she spits at the photograph of the SS camp doctor as a substitute for the SS doctors she came across when she was brought into the infirmary. The things these doctors did to the women, čudno, čudno, Grandmother says and, again, means “terrible” when she says “strange.” She believes that, because of these books, no one will be able to accuse her of making up stories anymore. No one can call me a liar anymore, she says. “She was saved, yes,” our narrator reminds us, “but whether or not she's glad she's alive, that she can't say.” The other major storytelling presence in our young narrator's world is her father, who has also been scarred by the war. Unlike Grandmother, Father did not spend time in a concentration camp, but as a young boy he was tortured by the police, hanged on a tree until he lost consciousness, then taken to the police station and whipped. Turned into a resistance partisan at the tender age of 12, he ran for his life into the mountains, only to be later flushed out by his hunger: The day our provisions ran out and the commando came, it was up and out, down the mountain, through the German soldiers, over, out, Father recalled. That was some kind of noise. At two in the morning they slid down the mountainside in deep snow, down a chute that was used to send tree trunks into the valley below. The Germans trained searchlights up from Kamnik. It was so bright, every movement was visible. There was shooting in the valley, and all you could see were red and blue streaks. Leaves and branches rained down from the trees and one partisan was lying on the ground yelling help me, help me, Father tells us, but he just ran as if the devil were on his heels...Because in war it's like being hares in a hunt, only much worse, Father says. In our narrator's present day, the war is years in the past, and yet Father is still running for his life: drinking too much cider, crashing his motorcycle, lying down in the snow and refusing to move. He allows his daughter to accompany him into the forest, where he shares with her the celebratory rituals of hunting and shows her how to cross the border illegally from Austria into Slovenia. The forest was his refuge, but its silence always threatens to get the upper hand. The best thing to do when you are afraid in the forest, Father instructs her, is to sing partisan fighting songs. Like Grandmother, Father is ambivalent about having survived the war. Our narrator's childhood is punctuated with Father's drunken threats to kill himself, to go out to the apiary with his rifle and end it all, perhaps taking with him any family members who try to stop him. They wait until he passes out, then pry his fingers from the gun. At wakes and burials the stories come freely. Father and Grandmother don't always agree on the details, but their stories merge into each other, forming a thicket of violence and loss. The accumulation of stories overwhelms our narrator: As I listen, something collapses in my chest, as if a stack of logs were rolling away behind me, into the time before my time, and that time reaches out to grab me and I start to give in out of fascination and fear. It's got hold of me, I think, now it's here with me. Angel of Oblivion is, among other things, a book about the power of stories and storytelling. One aspect of this is its exploration of how stories shape personal identity. We witness this with our narrator, who has been hearing stories about the war, from Grandmother and others, all of her childhood, and by adolescence has come to resent their omnipresence in her life. She harbors conflicting impulses: on one hand, she wants to collect and preserve all the stories, conscious of their importance to her family and their broader community. But she also seeks to distance herself from the past, to be free of the ghosts that haunt Grandmother and Father. She goes to Vienna to get an education and begin a career, but she returns. “The hills of my home region have turned into a trap that reaches for me and snaps shut every summer,” she asserts; “The war invades my internal space.” Later, she reads Grandmother's diary and is “afraid of being overrun by the past, of being crushed by its weight.” In the end she makes a conscious decision to write about her family's stories, allowing them to become part of her even if it means that they will change her. So, too, do stories shape the narrator's mother, a complicated character who is perhaps unfortunately overshadowed by Grandmother and Father: When Grandmother was alive, Mother was almost never able to talk about herself. She sat next to those telling stories from the past and was never asked for her own. Her family's stories were considered insignificant, nothing very bad happened to her mother during the war, it was said, of course she'd had to raise her children alone as a day laborer, but that was nothing unusual. In the Slovenian convent school where Mother completed a one-year home economics course, they drummed into her head that she must only read chaste, pious books and never pick up the works of depraved writers. The other point about storytelling that Haderlap makes is its importance for community identity, particularly in a minority community, where stories may offer important counter-narratives to those promulgated by the majority community that surrounds them. This is a particularly salient point in the case of the Slovenian-speaking Austrians, a tight-knit minority community that offered the only sustained partisan resistance to the Nazis but has also historically been a target of discrimination by the German-speaking majority: The memories of the residents of these valleys begin to revolt, they rise up and take over. After the end of Nazism, they still knew their stories, they told each other what they had lived through, they could recognize themselves in another's suffering. But then the fear sets in that they'd be excluded because of their stories and seen as alien in a country that wanted to hear other stories and dismissed theirs as unimportant. They know their history is not mentioned in Austrian history books, certainly not in Carinthian history books in which the region's history begins with the end of the First World War, is interrupted and taken up again at the end of the Second World War. Those with stories to tell know this and they have learned to stay quiet. Along with everything else she accomplishes with this powerful work -- a work of historical witness, a Sebaldian descent into the depths of memory, and a brave and innovative hybrid of fiction and memoir -- Haderlap (and her English translator) deserve praise for breaking the silence to bring the stories of Slovenian-speaking Austrians to a much broader audience.
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Valeria Luiselli signed up for a tough project with The Story of My Teeth. It began as a story commissioned for the catalog of an exhibit in the Galería Jumex, a major contemporary art collection attached to a juice factory outside Mexico City. The purpose of the exhibit, and of her contribution, was to “reflect upon the bridges -- or the lack thereof -- between the featured artwork, the gallery, and the larger context of which the gallery took part.” So: a story about specific pieces of contemporary art, the art world at large, a juice factory, and an industrial neighborhood of which one of Luiselli’s characters says, “If there is a physical materialization of nothingness in this world, it is Ecatepec de Morelos.” As if this weren’t challenging enough, Luiselli then decided to serialize her story to be read in the Jumex factory so that it would be “not so much about but for the factory workers.” The workers allowed Galería Jumex staff to record their discussions about what they’d read, and Luiselli recycled bits of those conversations in her novel. Oh, and one more thing: she did all this under a male pseudonym. Specifically, she did it as Gustavo Sánchez Sánchez, which is her protagonist’s name. At this point you’re probably laughing. You probably think that this sounds like performance art, which it might be, or like an MFA candidate’s anxiety-induced nightmare. But the thing is, Luiselli pulls it off. The Story of My Teeth is a great read. The writing is equal parts elegant and chatty, with a great sense of humor. It’s full of Big Ideas but never feels like a lecture. It’s episodic, a bit skittery, but has plenty of forward momentum. Luiselli never lingers too long in a section, or in one of Gustavo “Highway” Sánchez Sánchez’s many anecdotes or digressions into the theory of auctioneering. Highway announces early in the book that he is the inventor of a new method of auctioneering: the allegoric method. This makes him “not just a lowly seller of objects but, first and foremost, a lover and collector of good stories, which is the only honest way of modifying the value of an object. End of declaration.” Later, he explains to a young writer that “What auctioneers auction, in the end, are just names of people, and maybe words. All I do is give them new content.” In other words, he lies, and people buy. Draw connections to the art world as you will. A lot of The Story of My Teeth is Luiselli letting the reader draw connections as he or she will. The book is littered with literary references. As a child, Highway works at Ruben Darío Jr.’s newsstand and helps Darío’s wife conceal her affair with a certain Mr. Unamuno. His next-door neighbor is Mr. Cortázar. His relatives all have names like Juan Sánchez Baudrillard and Miguel Sánchez Foucault. There are so many references that the book ends with a timeline put together by Christina MacSweeney, Luiselli’s translator, bringing them all together. (Yes, the book is a collaboration with her translator as well as the Jumex workers.) It can feel a bit like Roberto Bolaño circa The Savage Detectives, listing off all the Infra-Realists and their enemies, or like going to a party full of name-dropping jerks. The difference is that Luiselli doesn’t want you to take her names seriously. Some of the names are jokes, like Highway’s cousin Juan Pablo Sánchez Sartre, who “couldn’t hold his drink [and] would inevitably tell us -- around the time when the dessert was being served -- that we were hell.” Some are shout-outs, like the bonsai store owned by Alejandro Zambra, the Chilean writer who published a novel called Bonsai in 2006 and whose most recent collection, My Documents, includes a story in which Valeria Luiselli is a character. And all of them, as Highway says, are just names of people. Assign them value or don’t. If you do, you might be getting tricked, or ripped off. On the other hand, who cares if you got tricked if you enjoyed the story? The Story of My Teeth is a novel full of tricks and lies. Highway’s not exactly a reliable narrator, or a reliable auctioneer. He sells his own teeth as the teeth of Saint Augustine and Virginia Woolf. But, of course, all novels are full of tricks and lies. That’s what fiction is. And as Highway would have it, stories -- or, you know, tricks and lies -- are the only honest way to modify the value of an object. Not just an object. At the novel’s climax, Highway auctions himself to his son. He modifies his own value. Maybe that’s what fiction is, too: a way to make ourselves valuable. And you can’t blame a writer, or an auctioneer, for that.
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