Harrow by Joy Williams
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Are reviews on Goodreads supposed to guide readers by way of plot synopsis and evaluative comments? Hmmmm. I've never really tried that. I try to record how a particular read reorganizes my reading mind and reorients me to the world. Most days, I feel awash in a sea of words. All of my referents get lost.
The way I feel as a non-activist reader, trapped in and by words while the world moves inexorably in the direction of a kind of desertification where swimming or even standing in the rain would entail real danger, is about the way that the world narrated here feels.
I need a new narrative. A new organizing principle. Something which gets me back into the world, looking forward with hope. I don't only read. I also think with my hands, working on stuff. Working on boats, like the foredoomed sailor father here, crowned by an over-tensioned over-tired winch. For me, it was the propellor which nearly took my head off as I tried to pull it with an overtorqued undersized puller, but that I was bent over laughing. Are the words now over-taught?
I also just read Life 3.0 by Max Tegmark, which is a celebration of Artificial Intelligence. Those folks evince no hatred of our living 'natural' globe. They celebrate the abstracted mind, and by my read, in doing so enact more terror than is depicted even here. Death by omission.
This author is literate, even to some painful extent, while also alive in the world as it is. She's an operator in a world which is rapidly losing its referents. Her start was writing a sardonic tour guide to the Florida Keys, or something like that. And now she's made a mark in the world of letters, reviewed in the New York Review of Books by another Good Read writer, Nathaniel Rich. Denizen of New Orleans, which is sinking and nearly lost. He's not quite dystopian but tending that way.
In the world of Harrow the center of fascistic human gravity celebrates - or tries to - the eradication of antagonistic natural life, while certain oldsters pledge individualistic suicide raves against the machine. The book ends with a great crack. It might be the surviving tree in the way of a soccer pitch. Disney Land re-opened. Monster trucks pass through hauling decaying trailerable boats.
We need a language to reorient us all, and Joy Williams seems to have given up. It has never worked to provide a caricature of the world as it actually is right here and now. The best that can happen is that a smallish pod of literate folks who might read NYRB feel good or even smug for knowing what we know about where things are going. Everyone else is marked for stupid. Don't look up.
How many bleak descriptions of dystopia must we endure? Before we reacquaint ourselves with our neighbors and help each other out? Is the godhead really detached from the living cosmos as much as we are? Will all of life really go that easily into the night? Can fascism really re-take our nation?
Yes and yes and yes. The hope in this grimming with wonder book is represented by the cameos made by scorpions and spiders. The Law has been reduced to the recitations of a gifted ten-year-old, who recites wit about authors' intentions and strict constructionism. We literate are all the insufferable gifted children, reading and writing ourselves to irrelevance, while Gideon's Trumpeters blow up the inflatable wall. Somehow, we also mourn the child-judge's floatie toy disappearing from the fetid piscine.
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