Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Remainder, by Tom McCarthy

A young man - I do not recall ever learning his name - is involved in a strange accident and comes out of it not quite whole. He has all his limbs but he isn't able to use them as fluidly as in the past. Like a person with cerebral palsy (or, I suspect, other brain injuries), he has to learn to tell his muscles to take certain actions. He starts by imagining eating a carrot, learning every tiny step of the process of choosing, lifting, and finally eating the carrot. Then he learns to walk again.

Our character has friends but seems distant from them, not connected. He starts to notice that he is aware of himself, perhaps super-aware, of every move he makes. The injury presumably brought about this condition. At first he thinks he is alone with the condition but then observes others and concludes that just about everyone is somehow "acting" as they go about life. He yearns for the fluidity of natural movement, unconscious connection to the world.

While I found I did not particularly like the main character I could relate to his feelings in this sense. I have always been aware of myself, of watching myself, even down to a sense of how my lips feel when I move them, and certainly I can't stop myself from noticing how I react to others. For me this "observer" gets in the way of my being "real" and I am always second-guessing my actions. I have used unusual methods to counteract it, ways to release myself from that observer. So I understand how much this character wants to get past his.

His way of doing it puts this book into an entirely different realm.

Our fellow takes to "re-enactments". He has received a substantial settlement for his injuries so he has the money to do whatever takes his fancy. It begins when he wants to re-create an apartment building that he vaguely remembers. Did the building ever exist? We never find that out. We only know he feels he was "authentic" when he lived there and he seeks to find that authenticity by duplicating the entire building and surroundings.

He finds help and it really becomes, in a way, a two-person pursuit, with a staff of hundreds.

Yet for all that he doesn't pursue any real relationships with others. And his regard for others, while often generous, is also fleeting.

It's a book that is hard to put down. McCarthy has unleashed those dark and funny dreams here.