The wedding dress problem, goodbye to Roth, and hello to Knausgaard
by Rob Tiller
Jocelyn and Kyle visited us for the holiday weekend, and one of the planned events was the kick off of the search for Jocelyn’s perfect wedding dress. Sally excitedly briefed me on their plan for a mother-daughter visit to a high-end bridal shop, and I felt a bit queasy. For the first time, it hit home that there was a strong assumption that I’d be stroking a large check for a dress that will be worn only once.
I thought, maybe we can discuss this. We could deconstruct the cultural significance of wedding customs and related status displays, and consider revising certain traditions, perhaps at lesser expense. And then I realized that this would get me nowhere, and I may as well give up and enjoy the dress, which will, I’m sure, be beautiful.
I was affected by Philip Roth’s death this week, since his books have been an important part of my life. I’ve read about a dozen of them, including several that enriched my understanding of what can happen in the heads of others. He had a fierce engagement with life, and his books did what the best novels do: tell truths that can be told no other way. My favorite Roths are American Pastoral, The Human Stain, The Plot Against America, the Zuckerman trilogy, Sabbath’s Theatre, and of course, Portnoy’s Complaint.
I started an engagement with another major book recently: My Struggle, by Karl Ove Knausgaard. Knausgaard’s book is an autobiographical account of ordinary life and relationships translated from the original Norwegian and extending for 6 volumes (3,600 pages). It’s been talked about in literary circles, and I’d made a special note to avoid it. It seemed like unpromising subject matter having no bearing on my life issues, and way too long.
But having made it halfway through volume one, I’m utterly captivated. It’s uncanny: it seems very much about my life. In a recent piece in The New Yorker, Joshua Rothman notes having the same sensation. The work explores emotions to a depth that makes them seem both strange and true. My early impression is that Knausgaard has achieved something similar to Proust, but with less affectation and more intensity.
I took these pictures on Saturday morning in Umstead Park, where I hiked for a couple of hours on the Loblolly Trail. It was humid and very green.