Faces in the Crowd

It worries me that I like books like this – is my brain becoming so used to six second blasts of attention that books with little gasps of thoughts will become the only thing I can consume eventually? The story is a mixture of a tale told from a narrator who used to live in NYC but now lives with hubby and her two children in Mexico, tales of her life alone in NYC working as a literary translator, pushing her editor to publish her translations of Gilberto Owen, even making up some false connection between a poet the editor loves (Zvorsky) and fabricating documents to back up this claim. As she’s writing the story, she says her husband is reading the pages, demanding to know what’s fact and what’s fiction. She begins to write about his infidelities, his departure for Philadelphia coming on the heels of a postcard from a woman there, despite his claims that as an architect he must live in the city to see his project to completion as it’s being built. The narrator, as a young woman in NYC, wears a red coat and swears to having seen Gilberto Owen at random times in the subway. She begins to include snippets from Owen’s life, including that he’s seen her in the subway, along with Ezra Pound. It’s good writing, leaving you with a wavering sense of reality. There’s a lot of ghosts in this book- the narrator claims she leaves NYC when she becomes a ghost, there’s a ghost in the house in Mexico, Owen frequently calls himself a ghost in his conversations with the blind man (Homer, ha ha). Melancholy, fleeting, bite-sized bits perfect for us inattentive readers.

When a person has lived alone for a long time, the only way to confirm that they still exist is to express activities and things in an easily shared syntax: this face, these bones that walk, this mouth, this hand that writes. (p 2) … I used to write letters… I told them about my life in the metropolis, again and again, as if to make it my own, conscious, maybe, that happiness also depends on syntax: Dear X, I live at 63 Morningside Ave., again and again, to each of my invisible correspondents. (p 90)

When I was young I was weighted down by a constant sense of social inadequacy – I was never the most popular nor the most eloquent at a table; never the best read nor the best writer; not the most successful nor the most talented; definitely not the most handsome nor the one who had most luck with women. At the same time, I harbored the secret hope, or rather, the secret certainty, that one day I would finally turn into myself; into the image of myself I’d been elaborating for years. But when I now reread the notes or poems I wrote then, or when I recall the conversations with other members of my generation, and the ideas we so boldly expounded, I realize that the truth is I’ve been getting more imbecilic by the day. I’ve spent too many years sleeping, dozing. I don’t know at what moment an inversion began to occur in the process that I imagined as linear and ascending, and which, in the end, turned out to be a sort of pitiless boomerang that flies back and knocks out your teeth, your enthusiasm, and your balls.