My plan for 2015 is to read more mainstream fiction–although I doubt I’ll completely avoid science fiction and fantasy. In the Light of What We Know by Zia Haider Rahman is a foray into that world. It is a kind of book I don’t normally read, and I grappled early on with my own expectations regarding pace, tone, and plot.
It is a slow, meandering, self-indulgent narrative. The author is occasionally guilty of being “to clever”–not using quotation marks, the constant bouncing around in time, and the excursions into side topics, can sometimes be confusing, off-putting, and self-indulgent. However, Rahman paints a portrait of two interesting men in long, slow, oblique strokes, and the book is littered with gems that allowed me to forgive the off-putting moments:
To say that an unexamined life is not worth living is, in my mind, putting things a tad too strongly. What I know now, however, is that an untested life can lead some people into a kind of moribund discontent that cannot easily be shaken off.
Or the story that cut right to this (relatively) new father’s heart of a man watching his son make a choice that moves him from childhood to adulthood that ends with the line:
But that Saturday morning, as he walked into the children’s library, what I believe I felt was his heart breaking. Watching a door close that can never be opened again is, I am sure, enough to break a heart.
Or this which speaks to mortality
Everyone, he continued, wants his life to stand for something other than what it would, which is about eighty years–in the West, at any rate–eighty years of working, eating, sleeping, shitting, breeding, and dying. Lives of buttoning an unbuttoning…
Or this grim excursion:
I’ve read that in fishing communities throughout the world, the same story is apparently told about dolphins, the benign dolphin is how it’s described, about a fisherman thrown overboard but saved by a playful dolphin that nudges him all the way back to the land. But you have to ask: What if the dolphin is just playing, nudging away for fun but with no regard for the direction it’s moving this bobbing creature, the stricken seaman? Who knows? There may be lost fishermen whom the incoming tide would have returned to safety but for the dolphin who playfully takes them off to the setting sun. The only fishermen we ever hear from are the ones brought back to shore. The rest perish at sea. Which is another way of saying we live in the world we notice and remember. Scientists call it the availability bias.
Our choices are made, our will flexed, in the teeth of events that overwhelm and devour us.
So it may not be for everyone, but I don’t regret reading it.