Disturbances in the Field, Lynne Sharon Schwartz

I read about this on this blog here, and I’ve been reading it off and on for the last week and a half.  It’s very sad.  Very, very, very, very sad.  It’s a very woeful book.  It’s all about a woman called Lydia and her life in college and then her married life and her children.  I’ll just go ahead and spoil this for you: Two of them die, the younger two, the two she raised to tothood without massive travail and struggle.  And that’s part of the thing that threads through the entire book – you know from the beginning that there’s something that’s going to be very wrong, but you don’t find out until the middle that the kids die.

(At least I don’t think you do.  I read the end as soon as I got the something-wrong sense, so I knew straight along that the two younger kids were going to die, so maybe it was mentioned in the earlier bits of the book.)

For a book that goes at such a leisurely pace, I found this rather gripping.  I didn’t feel desperately compelled to pick it up frequently – obviously, since I read about six books in between starting this and finishing it – but when I was reading it, I didn’t want to put it down again.  It was interesting how the thread of her children’s death went through the entire book even before it happened, alongside the music and philosophy thing.

Speaking of the philosophy thing, I was charmed by the hedonic calculus, to the point that I can remember all seven of the parameters – Intensity, Duration, Certainty or Uncertainty, Propinquity, Fecundity, Purity, and Extent – by which you can measure pleasure.  I am a big fan of measuring things, and now every time I enjoy something I keep pausing and measuring it by Bentham’s calculus in my head.  Eating rugelach doesn’t do well, but eating dinner with my family does.  Which I suppose is about what you’d expect, no matter how much you like rugelach, and I like rugelach a lot.  Oh, and I also was pleased that George mentioned how Oscar Wilde sunk his ship talking about a boy being ugly.  Because I remember that happening, and every time I read Irish Peacock and Scarlet Marquess – I am admitting myself to be such a tremendous Oscar Wilde dork here – every time I read it, anyway, I see that moment coming and I want to get in a time machine and find Oscar Wilde and say, DO NOT SAY IT.  It’s like watching a trainwreck, and I always, always, always think of that story that Vyvyan tells about his father crying in France.  And I feel so sad for everyone, for Oscar Wilde and for all his friends and for the two boys, Cyril proving his masculinity and dying in the war, Vyvyan collecting scraps of articles about queer people being persecuted.  They hurt my heart.

…Yeah, I don’t know how often I’ve mentioned it here, but I know many, many facts about Oscar Wilde.  When I still planned to write a thesis, I was going to write it on Oscar Wilde – the changes in his literary and personal reputation from 1890 to 1930, a time period mainly chosen so I could include Bosie’s dreadful biographies and the incredibly hilarious Pemberton-Billing trial.  I check indexes for Oscar Wilde’s name, I put stars in syllabuses next to his birthday (I did do – now I don’t do that anymore because of not having any syllabuses), I like October because he was born in it, I have lots of strong feelings about people nobody’s heard of because of how they treated Oscar Wilde…

This has been a bit of a derailing time.  Back to Disturbances in the Field.  I won’t ever read it again, because it was incredibly sad, and I don’t deal well with stories about people handling their grief badly.  It’s a token of how good this book was that I was able to keep reading at all – it’s just that Ms. Schwartz has this remarkable trick of writing things that makes them pop out at you.  Random things, little things, like how she wrote about this day that Lydia spends at the beach with her sister.  I don’t know what it was, but I felt like I was back vacationing at Wells Beach in Maine, which is where my family went every summer.

Good book.  Very, very, very, very sad.  I mean the kind of sad where I almost tossed it back in my library bag, and please appreciate that I virtually never do this, and that the library was closed so I have no new books to read if I don’t read the ones I’ve got, and I have to distract myself for the next two weeks while I wait for The Graveyard Book.  If I had kids, I know I wouldn’t have finished this book.  But I’m glad I read it.