Ordinary Human Language

by Brian Crane

Down There on a Visit

I bought an old hard cover edition of this book online and it showed up riddled by bookworms (all dead now thankfully).

By the time I was done reading, I felt those traces of past life—cutting a wobbly track across the surface of four or five pages before digging a hole straight through a dozen more and then turning and cutting a bit more track in a new direction before coming to an abrupt end—I felt those traces were an apt image of Isherwood’s style in this book. Spare and sharply defined, but also wandering and seemingly aimless.

When the book ends, it doesn’t so much conclude as stop. Reading the final pages, it seemed to me that Edmund White does something like what Isherwood does but with an artistry and a sense of structure and a density that suit my tastes more.

I was reading this book as the election came to a close, and the sense of dread that builds off-stage as the narrator, Christoph, notices the Nazi’s rise to power and the war that ensues, notices it from Greece, from England, and finally from Hollywood, notices it but invariably, repeatedly looks away, well, it all felt uncomfortably topical in those early, gloomy days after the election results were announced. I walked away from the book with a new understanding of how even terrible, earth-shattering events leave vast swaths of people merely inconvenienced, leave them free to do other things.

I suppose this is a cause for hope—things go on, people survive—but if so, it’s a bleak kind of hope.

Posted November 22, 2016