Hello, Failure

Of all the enemies of literature, success is the most insidious

Thursday, June 03, 2004

Failure of the Day: Dermis: The Surface Layer

Sometimes I think I do it just because I like the way it looks, even though no one can see.

It’s based on the standard visual shorthand for marriage: a couple in their pajamas, sitting in bed, pleasantly chatting every now and again, when they look up from their books. We don’t so much do that because Chris needs much less sleep than I do and therefore stays up much later, but he often sits at his computer in the bedroom while I am in bed reading. (I like this image so much I ended my novel with it—the uncured woman floating in shimmering blue light reflected off green walls, the hospital white banished.)

But even that isn’t all of it. It’s the book too. It’s who wrote the book.

One of the benefits of being married to a bookstore manager is that he orders any book I want and then brings it home to me. No; don’t ever underestimate the enormous number of outrageously thoughtful, generous, and kind things that he does every day. The most recent spate of books that I couldn’t find at Green Apple and that he special ordered just for me include:

The Fatigue Artist by Lynne Sharon Schwartz
The Anatomy Lesson by Philip Roth
Self-Consciousness by John Updike

I wanted the Updike memoir because it includes a long essay about his lifelong battle with psoriasis that I will plagiarize to within an inch of its parched life. But in general, his writing seriously drives me apeshit because it’s so dry, and I know it’s a personal failing on my part and everything, but if it weren’t for the whole psoriatic brotherhood thing, I swear I’d happily ignore him forevermore.

Except for the way it looks. Because it looks like that image, that ridiculous image in my head of the couple in bed, reading. The woman in the image, she’s reading Updike. And that means something to me that it doesn’t mean to anybody else, I think; a masculine and gentile and literary gentry thing that baffles and fascinates me. And excludes me, utterly and by definition.

So tonight and for a couple more nights, I’ll read about ole U’s skin, which vexes him in the same way my skin vexes me, but I will sleep in my perfect blue green bedroom with my masculine, gentile, and literary husband and be excluded from nothing.


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