The passage above is found on page 22 of my edition of “Grapes of Wrath.” It usually takes a book 100 pages or so to build up the momentum to drop a beauty bomb such as that. Steinbeck does it in 20. Bless his Sperit.
I finally know why: the emptiness that “one feels when one has finished a piece of work that was important to one.”
This is not a small emptiness; it is a big one. Sure, one can decide to promote the hell out of the book and keep it alive. But book parties and book planning are not the same as book writing. They are the opposite, rather, the antithesis.
What I enjoy is the book writing. But book writing is a self-eliminating process. The more you write a book, the closer you are to finishing it. And once there are no more words to sculpt, the book is gone.
At first the emptiness was bigger. What Herman Hesse writes in his book, “Narcissus and Goldmund” is true. The emptiness passes, is passing. Perhaps it is time for another bellyful of book.
So I read Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “Relato de un Náufrago” (“The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor”) in one sitting. I had my doubts when buying it beacuse I tend to find that all shipwreck stories are the same. Sun, thirst, hunger, dead fish.
Indeed, my favorite part of the tale was Marquez’s introduction, which included the stupendous description above of the Colombian historical context at the time the story was published (apologies to non-Spanish readers).
And, while no one can say that Marquez’s shipwreck tale is bad, it’s a story of sun, thirst, hunger, dead fish. It does interweave an interesting message, however, of the difference between the fear of dying and the fear of death.
Death, actually being dead, does not scare the narrator. Death is a form of salvation, the end of water hell. But the act of dying is immediate, terrifying hell. The options are not good: sharks, imagined carnivorous turtles, burnt lungs.
Fear of going through such terrible experiences keeps the narrator from letting himself die, no matter how much he claims to want the out of death. As a result, he stays alive.
With this story Marquez confirms that our extreme cowardice when faced with gore, pain, any form of death by dying is so effective that it finally makes us brave.
From my book “Reverse Commute.” Happy weekend everyone!