Cain murdered Abel, and blood cried out from the earth; the house fell on Job's children, and a voice was induced or provoked into speaking from a whirlwind; and Rachel mourned for her children; and King David for Absalom. The force behind the movement of time is a mourning that will not be comforted. That is why the first event is known to have been an expulsion, and the last is hoped to be a reconciliation and return. So memory pulls us forward, so prophecy is only brilliant memory--there will be a garden where all of us as one child will sleep in our mother Eve, hooped in her ribs and staved by her spine. (192)The book is also a better and more affecting meditation on loss than Didion's Year of Magical Thinking (which I read and liked) or any of the other recent memoirs of grief (most of which I've read only in long excerpts). This is Robinson describing what the rest of us might call, with clinical ugliness, "obsessional thinking"--the inability to let go of the past or the people in it:
[H]ere we find our great affinity with water, for like reflections on water our thoughts will suffer no changing shock, no permanent displacement. They mock us with their seeming slightness. If they were more substantial--if they had weight and took up space--they would sink or be carried away in the general flux. But they persist, outside the brisk and ruinous energies of the world. (163)But in fact, it's not really grief Robinson is writing about so much as the human condition: transient and marked by loss and hopeful of an escape which is also a transcendence. That's what's wrong, I think, with so many memoirs: they assume that their particulars are, if not universal, at least of universal interest--while not actually being able to capture the truly universal or imagine anything beyond the author's own experience. Maybe that's only due modesty, when the subject is oneself. Maybe fiction is a better place for reflecting on how personal pasts intersect with national ones, or for making claims about the human condition.
Those who have been reading me long enough may have divined that my only real subject, my only real obsession, is how we make meaning out of the past and how we grapple with our sense of loss (past, present, or anticipated); it's probably why I blog, and it is, after a fashion, the subject of almost all my scholarship. So maybe I'm a peculiarly ideal reader for this novel. But if you haven't read it, do. And if you haven't read it recently, read it again.