“When I looked back at Sarah I saw her powdered, thinning skin like a crepe, with the same light freckles as a crepe, her gnarly-knuckled hand, arthritic from chopping herbs, going through her spiky russet hair, knocking back her scarf. How did her stand-up hair defy not just gravity but even the additional weight of a scarf? Why did my own hair always lie flat, defeated by atmospheric physics of all sorts, unimproved even by the most widely advertised of sticky gels? Education had not entirely elevated my concerns in life. It had probably not even assisted my analyses of these concerns, though that was the most I could hope for. I was too fresh from childhood. Subconsciously, my deepest brain still a cupboard of fairy tales, I suppose I believed that if a pretty woman was no longer pretty she had done something bad to deserve it. I had a young girl’s belief that this kind of negative aging would never come to me. Death would come to me–I knew this from reading British poetry. But the drying, hunching, blanching, hobbling, fading, fattening, thinning, slowing? I would just not let that happen to moi.”
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“Six days later, Jack had climbed nearly all the way out of despair. By the end of his first days on the road, he seemed to himself to have grown from childhood right through adolescence into adulthood–into competence. It was true that he had not returned to the Territories since he had awakened on the western bank of the river, but he could rationalize that, and the slower travelling it involved, by telling himself that he was saving Speedy’s juice for when he really needed it.”
“Jacob turned back to her and lowered his half-frozen face until it was only inches from her dead one–a Romeo with his Juliet. ‘Mary! Mary Fay! Come back to us! Come back to us and tell us where you’ve been!’
It’s hard for me to think of what happened next, let alone write it down, but I must, if only as a warning for anyone else who contemplates some similar experiment in damnation, and may read these words, and turn back because of them.
She opened her eyes.”
“But in glimpses of herself–shouting at Steve, at Zach–she recognized her own mother, and Susan’s face burned with shame. She had never seen what she saw now: that her mother’s fits of fury had made fury acceptable, that how Susan had been spoken to became the way she spoke to others. Her mother had never said, Susan, I’m sorry, I should not have spoken to you that way. And so years later, speaking that way herself, Susan had never apologized either.
And it was too late. No one wants to believe something is too late, but it is always becoming too late, and then it is.”
“Introverts, in contrast, may have strong social skills and enjoy parties and business meetings, but after a while wish they were at home in their pajamas. They prefer to devote their social energies to close friends, colleagues, and family. They listen more than they talk, think before tehy speak, and often feel as if they express themselves better in writing than in conversation. They tend to dislike conflict. Many have a horror of small talk, but enjoy deep discussions.”
“When you go to a football game and someone offers you a beer, says the personality psychologist Brian Little, ‘they’re really saying hi, have a class of extroversion.'”
“This is the thing. It’s March. And at this moment in our life together, Noel and I are a bit at cross-purposes. I’m ready to have both time and money for other things. After raising children for more than twenty years, I’m ready to have fewer responsibilities. After the years of work and sacrifice to make the pink house what it is, every spare minute and every spare dime going toward that work, I want Noel and me to find another hobby we can enjoy together. Like what? Noel asks, very uncreatively, it strikes me. Ballroom dancing? I venture tentatively. Cooking? Travel? Jewelry making? A book club? He says the country house is his midlife crisis. He jokes that in lieu of a new sports car, or a girlfriend, or a new job, he wanted to change his life by tackling some big challenge. I’d glimpsed this restlessness in him before we found the country house, and I suspect it’s true what he’s saying. But this response feels a little flippant to me, and I’m not pacified by it.
I understand, and I don’t understand. I don’t know why his hobbies must always involve me to the degree they do. We’re usually good about talking out our differences and reaching compromises without linger resentments. We both agree the lack of resentment is the most astonishing thing about our marriage.
So. March already.”
“It makes perfect sense that many of us obsess over our bodies. There is nothing more inescapable. Our bodies move us through our lives. They bring pleasure and pain. Sometimes our bodies serve us well, and other times our bodies become terribly inconvenient. There are times when our bodies betray us or our bodies are betrayed by others. I think about my body all the time–how it looks, how it feels, how I can make it smaller, what I should put into it, what I am putting into it, what has been done to it, what I do to it, what I let other do to it. This bodily preoccupation is exhausting. There is no one more self-absorbed than a fat person, and Skinny exposes just how obsessive people are when they are unhappy with their bodies. This is not to say all fat people are unhappy with their bodies, but many are. Most of my friends are equally obsessive even though they are thin–hating themselves or specific parts of themselves: their arms, their thighs, their chins, their ankles. They do crazy diets and starve themselves and run themselves ragged trying to maintain some semblance of control over things that are somewhat out of our control. I don’t think I know any woman who doesn’t hate herself and her body at least a little bit. Bodily obsession is, perhaps, a human condition because of its inescapability.
“In his last four years he had seen any number of bedrooms like this, dotted round the city like crime scenes, rooms where you were never more than six feet from a Nina Simone album, and though he’d rarely seen the same bedroom twice, it was all too familiar. The burnt out nightlights and desolate pot plants, the smell of washing powder on the cheap, ill-fitting sheets. She had that arty girl’s passion for photomontage too: flash-lit snaps of college friends and family jumbled in amongst the Chagalls and Vermeers and Kandinskys, the Che Guevaras and Woody Allens and Samuel Becketts. Nothing here was neutral, everything displayed an allegiance or a point of view. The room was a manifesto, and with a sigh Dexter recognized her as one of those girls who use ‘bourgeois’ as a term of abuse. He could understand why ‘facist’ might have negative connotations, but he liked the word ‘bourgeois’ and all that it implied. Security, travel, nice food, good manners, ambition; what was he meant to be apologizing for?”
“But if renting all those movies had taught me anything more than how to lose myself in them, it was that you only actually have perfectly profound little moments like that in real life if you recognize them yourself, do all the fancy shot work and editing in your head, usually in the very seconds that whatever is happening is happening. And even if you do manage to do so, just about never does anyone else you’re with at the time experience that exact same kind of moment, and it’s impossible to explain it as it’s happening, and then the moment is over.”
“She’s snoring slightly. It feels like violation of her privacy to hear it. He’s sober now, or close to it, and outside the sliding doors the light has faded slightly. There’s the gurgling hum of the air-conditioning unit, the room comfortably cold. He thinks of his car back in the parking lot behind the Sea Spray Motel, its wood glue and tiling materials and steel pipe in the trunk. It’s not too late to at least repair the kitchen table leg, but he doesn’t want to wake this woman, and if he leaves he’ll be a prick.”