Thursday, July 2, 2009

"jolts me out of the present, for just a moment"

In Amateur Reader's most recent post at Wuthering Expectations, he writes of a single sentence in George Eliot's Silas Marner that "jolts [him] out of the present, for just a moment."

Such sentences exist also in Revolutionary Road. The opening lines of Part 2:

There now began a time of such joyous derangement, of such exultant carelessness, that Frank Wheeler could never afterwards remember how long it lasted. It could have been a week or two weeks or more before his life began to come into focus, with its customary concern for the passage of time and its anxious need to measure and apportion it; and by then, looking back, he was unable to tell how long it had been otherwise.

Until this point, the narrative relies on events recounted chronologically by a third-person narrator, interspersed with illuminating character histories occurring before the action of the novel takes place. In the two above sentences, "afterwards" and "looking back" jolt me out of the present.

This is the first time in the book the prospect of any future for The Wheelers is made tangible, though Yates doesn't reveal whether Frank is "looking back" on this moment from Paris - or trapped, still, in his house on Revolutionary Road. Even without this disclosure, Yates' measured inclusion of "afterwards" and "looking back" means that Frank persists at least long enough to have forgotten how long the intoxication caused by the mere IDEA of Paris lasted.

Revolutionary Road's characters are given to extended hypotheticals: planning trips that may never happen, imagining lives that may never exist, pining for, fictionalizing, and romanticizing their pasts, insinuating themselves into superior peer groups... most of their vagaries impotent. This, coupled with a looming sense of menace, a "virus of calamity" just waiting to be consummated, provide no guarantee of the characters' survival, emotional or otherwise.

I was THRILLED, upon reading these two sentences, to find that Frank makes it to the future! AND remains lucid!


Dorothy W. said...

Moments like that are so interesting, I think. They are easy to overlook, but they give away so much information. You can kind of relax then, knowing at least a little bit of what will happen.

Amateur Reader said...

Excellent example - it works like you say for the reader, and its a psychologically accurate description of Frank, how time escapes him, how his life becomes as unfocused as his idea about what he's supposed to be doing in Paris.