The heat is on here in the San Joaquin Valley. Summer arrived last week bringing along the usual hot afternoons. The mornings are still nice and that’s when I get my work done. The air is so warm that I go barefoot and wear shorts or shifts to clean, launder and garden. Then in the afternoons, when the heat rises, I read.
A few weeks ago, just as I was finishing with my chaplain responsibilities, I read a book that takes place in the mid 1950s, but recently written–Three Martini Lunch. The author gives a list of books she used as reference for the events and nuances of the period. That list has provided me with a stack of books, all retrieved from the local library, to immerse myself in another era. I haven’t been impressed with the writing, except for James Baldwin’s. I liked his material. The others, like Jack Kerouac’s, On the Road, seemed inane. Some good dialog, but poorly written narrative. Nor did I like the characters in the books. Especially Sylvia Plath’s. You just want to throttle some of them.
Speaking of which, I am now reading a very current novel, Dorothea Benton Frank’s Queen Bee. The characters, for the most part, are very likable, except for the next door neighbor that the main character, Holly, has a crush on. It takes the whole book for her to realize what a louse he is, a taker, not a giver. The rest of us see it and are astounded that he is so foolish. But, isn’t that the way real life works.
Which brings me to another book, the last of the 1950’s list, Kafka Was the Rage. It’s a memoir, written by Anatole Broyard who died in 1990 without ever finishing his book. The first part is about his affair with a really horrible woman who treats him, and everyone, very badly. Being young, I suspect he didn’t know any different or how to deal with her bad behavior. He finally leaves her and gets his own apartment. He’s lonely and thinks about the woman, Sheri, and writes, “Even with all the trouble she gave me, I wonder whether Sheri wasn’t better than loneliness.” He considers going back to her.
That’s when it hits me that a lot of people hitch their wagon to really bad people just because they fear loneliness. I see it all around me. People who go back to someone who treated them shabbily. Or, they keep the abuser around because someone awful is better than no one. And here is the real clincher–no one can change their minds. Anatole’s friends and family tried to warn him off Sheri, but he didn’t listen. He stayed with her for a long time, and even considered going back. His narrative shifts and he moves on, but one wonders what really made him make the move and stay away and why more people can’t do likewise.