Carin at Matilda Magtree illustrated her recent post about how to write seasonally unaffected greeting cards with her photographs of Judith Scott’s amazing fibre sculptures.* The sculptures reminded me of a passage from Nicole Krauss’s second novel, which I bought secondhand, knowing nothing about Nicole Krauss. But the title and the watery cover art drew me in.
When I started reading The History of Love, I noticed the dedication (for Jonathan, my life) but I didn’t give it much thought. As I dove deeper and deeper into the entwined stories of elderly Leo Gursky and 14-year-old Alma Singer, though, I kept being reminded of another novel—one that was the basis for one of my all-time favourite movies, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. I later found out that Krauss’s Jonathan was indeed the Extremely Loud author, Jonathan Safran Foer. Krauss and Foer have since divorced, but they were married when they wrote the two novels, and I can’t shake the feeling that one morning over bagels they challenged each other: “Here are the parameters. Now write.” Their books are different, like bagels differ from toast. Or, maybe more accurately, the way Montreal-smoked beef is different from lox.
That analogy oversimplifies two complex, innovative, intricately textured novels. But read them both and tell me if your impressions mirror mine. Also, Foer’s novel got a lot more attention and acclaim, but I think Krauss’s is better. I’d be interested to hear what you think.
Meanwhile, here is Nicole Krauss’s take on string, from The History of Love:
So many words get lost. They leave the mouth and lose their courage, wandering aimlessly until they are swept into the gutter like dead leaves. On rainy days, you can hear their chorus rushing past: IwasabeautifulgirlPleasedon’tgoItoobelievemybodyismadeofglass-I’veneverlovedanyoneIthinkofmyselfasfunnyForgiveme….
There was a time when it wasn’t uncommon to use a piece of string to guide words that otherwise might falter on the way to their destinations. Shy people carried a little bunch of string in their pockets, but people considered loudmouths had no less need for it, since those used to being overheard by everyone were often at a loss for how to make themselves heard by someone. The physical distance between two people using a string was often small; sometimes the smaller the distance, the greater the need for the string.
The practice of attaching cups to the ends of string came much later. Some say it is related to the irrepressible urge to press shells to our ears, to hear the still-surviving echo of the world’s first expression. Others say it was started by a man who held the end of a string that was unraveled across the ocean by a girl who left for America.
When the world grew bigger, and there wasn’t enough string to keep the things people wanted to say from disappearing into the vastness, the telephone was invented.
Sometimes no length of string is long enough to say the thing that needs to be said. In such cases all the string can do, in whatever its form, is conduct a person’s silence.
~ Nicole Krauss, The History of Love (W. W. Norton, 2005)
*Judith Scott (1943-2005) was a visual artist isolated by Down Syndrome and profound deafness, who achieved world recognition for her fibre sculptures. Her story has been told by John MacGregor in Metamorphosis: The Fiber Art of Judith Scott, and in her twin sister Joyce Scott’s memoir, Entwined.