Wednesday, February 13, 2013

From the Pen of Ben Lerner

It’s been a while since I finished Ben Lerner’s Leaving the Atocha Station , but that doesn’t mean I’m through with it yet. I flipped back through it looking at some of the highlights I’d made along the way, and realized it’s hard to convey just how hilarious this book is based on a mere passage or two. But here’s one example that gives you a sense for the main character’s Byzantine self-awareness and his amusing disdain for those around him:
"I opened my eyes a little more widely than normal, opened them to a very specific point, raising my eyebrows and also allowing my mouth to curl up in the implication of a smile. I held this look steady once it had obtained, a look that communicated incredulity cut with familiarity, a boredom arrested only by a vaguely anthropological interest in my surroundings, a look that contained a dose of contempt I hoped could be read as political, as insinuating that, after a frivolous night, I would be returning to the front lines of some struggle that would render whatever I experienced in such company null. The goal of this look was to make my insufficiencies appear chosen, to give my unstylish hair and clothes the force of protest; I was a figure for the outside to this life, I had known it and rejected it and now was back as an ambassador from a reality more immediate and just.
"There ensued a battle between the music and my face."
But even when he’s not being funny, he shows a poet’s flare for injecting his lines and paragraphs with phrases that bring the whole thing to life like so many lighted fuses:
"While I thought of myself as superior to all the carousal I was in fact desperate for some form of participation both because I was terribly bored at night and because I was undeniably attracted to the air’s vulgar libidinal charge."
"While I had never thought I was in love with Teresa, whatever that might mean, I had on more than one occasion thought that she was maybe a little in love with me. And if we never slept together or otherwise “realized” our relationship, I would leave Spain with this gorgeous possibility intact, and in my memory could always ponder the relationship I might have had in the flattering light of the subjunctive."
"My mind was revising many months’ worth of assumptions; I felt something like a physical change as my recent past liquefied and reformed. What was left of the light burnished what it touched; Isabel was half shadow and half bronze, boundless and bounded."
"Teresa made a joke and they laughed and the many-headed laughter was terrible to me."
"Elena Lopez Portillo had ceased to speak and I could feel a change in pressure on my face, the effect of the audience focusing its eyes upon me." 

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