Friday, August 01, 2008

The Sorrows of an American

I've found a really good novel by Siri Hustvedt, The Sorrows of an American, about which I knew nothing. The narrator, Erik, is a psychiatrist and his sister, Inga, is a philosopher. After their father's death, they go back to Minnesota to clear out their father's papers. The papers trigger and change the narrator's memories, dreams, and responses. "I am lonely," he keeps muttering. He realizes he has been saying it for a long time.

Everyone in his world is lonely, or alone. He is divorced, his sister is widowed with an only child, his tenant is an artist mother with an only child. Mr. T, a former psychiatric patient, shows up on his street, babbling poetry, in intense pain

"Chip planters from the other side, channeling me, man, the great dead heads (not grateful, ungrateful), Goethe, Goering, God, Buddha, Bach, Bruno, Houdini, Himmler, Spinoza, St. Theresa. Rasputin. Elvis. Talkin' graves. Chosen from the other side. Nondimensional spaces, texts coming through, beating me hard up there. Mingus. Fear and trembling, trembling, and fear...."

The patient needs his notebook. He has stopped taking his medicine, because it has made him obese. At the emergency room, the narrator explains that Mr. T needs his notebook. Mr. T is allowed to keep that, but in the psychiatric hospital they don't see him as special and the narrator is grieves over Mr. T's grief.

Unlike Mr. T, the dangerous former boyfriend of Miranda, the artist-tenant, photographs her all over the city and breaks into Erik's house.

Miranda does not find this odd. She, an artist, continually makes excuses for the behavior of another artist, a photographer.

Hustvedt has this exactly right.

Lots about dreams. A discussion at the dinner table about dreams, interpretation, remembering them, how writers use dreams. The novel sometimes reads like a series of eerie dream sequences.

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