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20 Reasons Why THE VANISHERS Might Have Been Regressively Written by a Future Heidi Julavits as a Gift to Of-Late Me
1. Goddess energies, obvo.
2. “In other words, this is not just a story about how you can become sick by knowing other people. This is a story about how other people can become sick by knowing you.”
3. Repeated use of the word “astral.”
4. “Part 1” plays out as a psychic campus novel. Imagine Bennington with spectral activity in addition to the numbing sex and booze and there you have it.
5. This phrase: “stained-glass windows unto the astral abyss.”
6. A character central to the book’s mystery is, early on, referred to exclusively as “the Leni Riefenstahl of France.” Miss you, Steven Bach.
7. “I think we both knew, before she flipped the card, that it would be the Fool, cautioning me not to take the imprudent path.” This is quite like what happened to me when a friend had me pull my card for the new year. (Previously.)
8. In an early passage, a specter of Fenrir, the mythical Norse wolf, becomes an embodiment of heartsickness and feasts upon its prey. Please see Neville being devoured by the jaws of heartsick grief in Episode 5 of The Waves.
9. Speaking of Woolf, a major male character is said to resemble her. Later still: “He really did look like shit, like Virginia Woolf after she’d been dredged from the river bottom.”
10. “Clarity, it turns out, is a death sentence,” Alwyn said. “Kincaid decided that by introducing patients to ‘reambiguation,’ i.e., by removing a person from his or her ambiguity-free, suicide-provoking context, he could offer them a viable suicide alternative.”
“How does a person reambiguate?” I asked.
“Kincaid prefers to call it vanishing,” Alwyn said.
“How does a person vanish?” I said.
“They leave and never go home,” she said. “It’s a very simple process.”
11. A psychic character is described as a brunette Cyndi Lauper, and is referred to as such for the rest of the scene. So, SheLaup in general, but also: Vibes.
12. This phrase: “a copse of spectral trees.”
13. Our heroine spends some time convalescing in semi-exile at an exclusive European spa. Shades of Mann and Brookner are tantamount to infinite bliss.
14. Meet my new mantras: “To forget is to respect the past, and the enable your pleasant future”; “…revisiting one’s memories could result, over time, in a form of self-erasure”; “The past is not the past if it is always present. Memory is an act of murder.”
15. “I knew from experience how unsettling it could be not to resemble the person once known as you.” Nose-break shellshock, guys!
16. Mention is made of the pleasing aftereffects of Grüner Veltliner. My body is basically 80% GV!
17. “It was my error not to understand: anyone can wake up one morning and decide against living. Every single day, the very healthiest among us might be seen to have a fifty-fifty chance of survival.”
18. “Concern was a bullshit way of caring for a person you couldn’t or wouldn’t love.”
19. “To be forgiven is to be released into the ether, untethered and alone.”
20. The discovery of reason and resolution in the dark interstices of female rivalry. (We can now add “Abmominations” to the ranks of Frenemies and Nemesisters.)
Davis was referred to as “the first heterosexual actor to die of AIDS,” although he reportedly was bisexual, a claim disputed by his wife in her book. When asked if he considered himself bisexual, he replied, “Didn’t someone once say everyone’s bisexual, deep down?”
Diagnosed with AIDS in 1985, Davis kept his condition secret until shortly before his death. Although the announcement said he died of AIDS in 1991 in Los Angeles, he actually died of an intentional drug overdose. Near death and in severe pain in a hospital, he opted to return home and end his life on his own terms. With his wife and a family friend present, he committed assisted suicide. Susan Bluestein Davis continues to campaign to combat AIDS.
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Alas! I could not ride about India in a sun-helmet and return to a bungalow. I cannot tumble, as you do, like half-naked boys on the deck of a ship, squirting each other with hose-pipes. I want this fire, I want this chair. I want some one to sit beside after the day’s pursuit and all its anguish, after its listenings, and its waitings, and its suspicions. After quarrelling and reconciliation I need privacy—to be alone with you, to set this hubbub in order. For I am as neat as a cat in my habits. We must oppose the waste and deformity of the world, its crowds eddying round and round disgorged and trampling. One must slip paper-knives, even, exactly through the pages of novels, and tie up packets of letters neatly with green silk, and brush up the cinders with a hearth broom. Everything must be done to rebuke the horror of deformity. Let us read writers of Roman severity and virture; let us seek perfection through the sand. Yes, but I love to slip the virtue and severity of the noble Romans under the grey light of your eyes, and dancing grasses and summer breezes and the laughter and shouts of boys at play—of naked cabin-boys, squirting each other with hose-pipes on the decks of the ships. Hence I am not a disinterested seeker, like Louis, after perfection through the sand. Colours always stain the page; clouds pass over it. And the poem, I think, is only your voice speaking. Alicibiades, Ajax, Hector and Percival are also you. They loved riding, they risked their lives wontonly, they were not great readers either. But you are not Ajax or Percival. They did not wrinkle their noses and scratch their foreheads with your precise gesture. You are you. That is what consoles me for the lack of many things—I am ugly, I am weak—and the depravity of the world, and the flight of youth and Percival’s death, and bitterness and rancour and envies innumerable… .
Virginia Woolf: The Waves
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Look, I’m thrilled that Flavorwire included The Waves (aka the Holy scripture by whose Word I live my life), but why did they use the hideous Penguin UK Modern Classics cover art? Not that there has ever been a truly satisfying cover for The Greatest Book Ever Written (and not that this is even the worst of them), but maybe they could have at least used Harcourt’s US cover. That’s the one people can buy here! (Also, I like to pretend that the gull coasting over the horizon is Rhoda, going out to sea one last time as she [figuratively?] does.)
Similarly (and, again, good work including my diary on this list, guys!), the actual recommendation is a little… huh?:
Woolf’s most experimental work essentially chronicles the entire lives of six characters in one day on the coast. Kind of like what might happen if you were surrounded by chatty neighbors. Just hold up your book smile apologetically. They’ll get the message.
Now, we all know that it’s very difficult to distill The Waves down to a canned reading line, etc., what with Woolf herself calling it a “an abstract mystical eyeless book: a playpoem.” But maybe try harder next time, Flavorwire! Comparing a Modernist masterpiece to the banal cross-talk you’re subjected to at the beach is selling it pretty short.
Aaaaaand… end rant no one cares about.
Virginia Woolf, The Waves