Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Joseph O'Neill's Netherland, Pt. 2

Joseph O'Neill's Netherland is a great novel. Its one of the best novels I've read about New York City, about immigrants, about marriage, about sports, particularly the playing of sports as an adult, and about the differences between the United States and Europe. Though the novel is only about 250 pages long, it is so full of ideas and beautiful set pieces that it provides the reader plenty on which to chew. The themes and characters in the novel gave me so much to consider that, at times, I had to remind myself to slow down and enjoy the language; O'Neill's sentences are stuffed with little gold coins that routinely inspired me to stop and re-read them out of sheer aesthetic joy.

In this passage, the narrator and his wife have, by chance, spotted Monica Lewinsky while out for a walk in Manhattan's West Village, and the sighting prompts the narrator to consider his life in New York and the privilege he has come to take for granted.

But the sighting had served as a luxurious instance of the city's ceaseless affirmation of its salvific worth: even that bizarre class of deliverance fit for poor Monica, it seemed, could be looked for here. And if that were so, one instinctively deduced, then one's own needs, such as they were, might equally be met. Not that we were in much doubt on this score. Our jobs were working out well - much better than expected, in my case - and we'd settled happily into our loft on Watts Street. This had a suitably gritty view of a parking lot and was huge enough to contain, in a corner of our white-bricked bedroom, a mechanical clothes rack with a swooping tail, like a roller coaster's appropriated from a dry-cleaning store: you pressed a button and Rachel's jackets and skirts and shirts clattered down from the ceiling like entering revelers. We had plenty to feel smug about, if so inclined. Smugness, however, requires a certain reflectiveness, which requires perspective, which requires distance; and we, or certainly I, didn't look upon our circumstances from the observatory offered by a disposition to the more spatial emotions - those feelings, of regret or gratitude or relief, say, that make reference to situations removed from one's own. It didn't seem to me, for example, that I had dodged a bullet, perhaps because I had no real idea what a bullet was. I was young. I was not much extracted from the innocence in which the benevolent but fradulent world conspires to place us as children.

I'll post a few more passages in over the next week or so. Hopefully at least one of them will inspire you to run out and buy or borrow a copy of this magnificent novel.

No comments: