I commented to Mom not long ago that I read too many happy ending books. Said happy ending books do not prepare one for real life. Real life rarely has happy endings. Sure, sometimes things work out and work out very well, but bad things happen to good people, and the universe is truly random. Bad things happen, through no fault of anyone sometimes, through active hostility and assholery other times.
Mom responded by suggesting this book. "This one doesn't have a happy ending," she said. She was correct. This book doesn't have a happy ending. It does, however, have the right ending.
If you want the short version, I'm told there is a movie. I haven't seen it.
This book reminded me of Mistakes Were Made (but not by me), which describes the real-world phenomenom of good people doing horribly wrong things, and how they rationalize the wrong to themselves. They do it one small decision at a time. No decision seems bad, each is close to the previous decision, but in total a very wrong action occurs.
This is pretty much what happens in this book. And then it all comes crumbling down.
Couple all of this with a woman's desire for motherhood, and yeah, you don't get a happy ending.
I started and finished this book in less than a day. I read this one so fast from start to finish, I didn't have time to set up an in-progress page. I'll admit to being sick, and sitting for hours to read it instead of sleeping, but it was still an engaging read. The writing is really close to being great, but tried too hard and is "only" good. The book itself is worth reading.
If he can only get far enough away—from people, from memory—time will do its job.
Of course, the losing of children had always been a thing that had to be gone through. There had never been guarantee that conception would lead to a live birth, or that birth would lead to a life of any great length. Nature allowed only the fit and the lucky to share this paradise-in-the-making.
His body craved sleep, but he knew too well that if you don’t eat you can’t work.
He knows keepers who swear under their breath at the obligation, but Tom takes comfort from the orderliness of it. It is a luxury to do something that serves no practical purpose: the luxury of civilization.
“Is that so?” asked Tom, as amused as he was surprised. He had a sense of being waltzed backward.
“I’ll tell you if you really want. It’s just I’d rather not. Sometimes it’s good to leave the past in the past.”
“Your family’s never in your past. You carry it around with you everywhere.”
“More’s the pity.”
“If I can’t talk about the past, am I allowed to talk about the future?”
“We can’t rightly ever talk about the future, if you think about it. We can only talk about what we imagine, or wish for. It’s not the same thing.”
If the war had taught her anything, it was to take nothing for granted: that it wasn’t safe to put off what mattered. Life could snatch away the things you treasured, and there was no getting them back.
Able to cure and to poison; able to bear the whole weight of the light, but capable of fracturing into a thousand uncatchable particles, running off in all directions, escaping from itself.
A life had come and gone and nature had not paused a second for it. The machine of time and space grinds on, and people are fed through it like grist through the mill.
“Then why upset them? Please, Tom. It’s our business. My business. We don’t have to tell the whole world about it. Let them have their dream a bit longer."
As he put it decades later, that sort of experience either gives you a taste for death, or a thirst for life, and he reckoned death would come calling soon enough anyway.
This is a small community, where everyone knows that sometimes the contract to forget is as important as any promise to remember.
History is that which is agreed upon by mutual consent.
That’s how life goes on — protected by the silence that anesthetizes shame.
“But it’s not always plain sailing, even when you’ve found the right girl. You’ve got to be in it for the long haul. You never know what’s going to happen: you sign up for whatever comes along. There’s no backing out.”
There was a need in Isabel that he could now never fill. She had given up everything: comforts, family, friends—everything to be with him out here. Over and over he told himself — he couldn’t deprive her of this one thing.
Tom was very still, sensing bodily the relief that would follow the unburdening of the truth about Lucy.
"Right and wrong can be like bloody snakes: so tangled up that you can’t tell which is which until you’ve shot ’em both, and then it’s too late.”
“Christ—the quickest way to send a bloke mad is to let him go on re-fighting his war till he gets it right.”
“You’re the one who always says that if a lighthouse looks like it’s in a different place, it’s not the lighthouse that’s moved.”
A lighthouse is for others; powerless to illuminate the space closest to it.
She’d reached her edge, that was all. Everyone had one. Everyone.
There was nothing he was going through that the stars had not seen before, somewhere, some time on this earth. Given enough time, their memory would close over his life like healing a wound. All would be forgotten, all suffering erased.
“There’s nothing you can do,” her father had said. “Once a horse bolts, you can only say your prayers and hang on for all you’re worth. Can’t stop an animal that’s caught in a blind terror.”
When it comes to their kids, parents are all just instinct and hope. And fear. Rules and laws fly straight out the window.
He is embraced by nature, which is waiting, ultimately, to receive him, to re-organize his atoms into another shape.
“Sometimes life turns out hard, Isabel. Sometimes it just bites right through you. And sometimes, just when you think it’s done its worst, it comes back and takes another chunk.”
"I’m not sure if or when I’ll be able to speak to you again. You always imagine you’ll get the chance to say what needs to be said, to put things right. But that’s not always how it goes."
“You’ve had so much strife but you’re always happy. How do you do it?”
“I choose to,” he said. “I can leave myself to rot in the past, spend my time hating people for what happened, like my father did, or I can forgive and forget.”
“But it’s not that easy.”
He smiled that Frank smile. “Oh, but my treasure, it is so much less exhausting. You only have to forgive once. To resent, you have to do it all day, every day. You have to keep remembering all the bad things.”
Putting down the burden of the lie has meant giving up the freedom of the dream.
"Izz, I’ve learned the hard way that to have any kind of a future you’ve got to give up hope of ever changing your past.”
Years bleach away the sense of things until all that’s left is a bone-white past, stripped of feeling and significance.
No point in thinking like that. Once you start down that road, there’s no end to it. He’s lived the life he’s lived. He’s loved the woman he’s loved. No one ever has or ever will travel quite the same path on this earth, and that’s all right by him.