Great House by Nicole Krauss/Reflections

Sunday, October 17, 2010

It is a book that folds.  It is a book whose mysteries are coiled and whose resolutions are many and mostly what we see coming wasn't what was coming after all.  With Great House, Nicole Krauss has assembled a somber, riveting meditation on the place of things in our lives (symbolized, in this case, by a massive, 19-drawered desk).  She has introduced fantastical details into harrowing, philosophizing prose.  She has declared fifty-year-old women old and mothers incapable of protection and children capable of lies and fathers capable of loving too much and too little, and, mostly, lovers incapable of knowing one another.  She has declared writers incapacitated, and also incapacitating.  It is raw.  It is hugely sophisticated.  It is frightening, it induces a form of wonder, to imagine living inside this book for as many years as Krauss as surely lived inside this book.

Great House is featured on the cover of today's New York Times Book Review.  It was nominated, this past week, for a National Book Award.  Word of this book is everywhere, and you don't need me to lay out its plot—such as it is—or to explain how it is an interlocking of short pieces that build to a long piece that step back down toward a quiet denouement that is, nonetheless, full of psychic violence.  You only need to know what the prose sounds like, how the searching scratches deep into the page, and so I will quote from it here, leave you to your own devices:  Read it or not. 

The words of a protagonist-writer:
And as we spoke a picture of myself emerged and developed, reacting to S's hurt like a Polaroid reacting to heat, a picture of myself to hang on the wall next to the one I'd already been living with for months—the one of someone who made use of the pain of others for her own ends, who, while others suffered, starved, and were tormented, hid herself safely away and prided herself on her special perceptiveness and sensitivity to the symmetry buried below things, someone who needed little help to convince herself that her self-important project was serving the greater good, but who in fact was utterly beside the point, totally irrelevant, and worse, a fraud who hid a poverty of spirit behind a mountain of words.
The words of a lover:
We search for patterns, you see, only to find where the patterns break.  And it's there, in that fissure, that we pitch our tents and wait.
The words, again, of a lover:
All my life I had been trying to imagine myself into her skin.  Imagine myself into her loss.  Trying and failing.  Only perhaps—how can I say this—perhaps I wanted to fail.  Because it kept me going.  My love for her was a failure of the imagination.


bermudaonion said...

Wow, you've really piqued my interest in this book.

septembermom said...

I'm intrigued as well. Love the excerpts. Thanks Beth.

Amy said...

It sounds fantastic. What beautifully written reflections.

Sarah Laurence said...

Wow! I read the NYT review yesterday, and I'm adding this to my to read list. Great review and excerpts.

Oddly enough I wrote a passage last week in my WIP about a desk with locked doors as a reflection of the owner.

Sarah Anne said...

"My love for her was a failure of the imagination."

Wow. That line alone has hooked me.

KFP said...

I have a ticket to go hear Nicole Krauss read at the Free Library of Philadelphia this Thursday, 10/21. I'm excited. Her novel, A History of Love, is on my list of top ten favorite books, along with your A Slant of Sun.

kristen spina said...

I'm with Georgie. That line is a killer.

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