Beyond the solitude of parental grief, the pain lingers
Falling Out of Time By David Grossman Translated by Jessica Cohen Jonathan Cape, 208pp, $39.99 (HB) DAVID Grossman’s vivid poetic drama Falling Out of Time begins with a character known only as Man watching his wife: ‘‘He does not take his eyes off her.’’ ‘‘[W]ounded, already, by disaster’’, they have spent five years swinging between the living and the dead ‘‘on the gallows of grief’’, bound and separated by their son’s death.
‘‘I have to go … to him, there,’’ he says. His bare syllables break a caul around their years of silence and connection; of ‘‘Both not saying/ the same words’’. She replies, in one of the book’s many spare and hauntingly beautiful pieces: Be careful, you are saying things. The threads are so fine.
Whimsical notes taken down by a Town Chronicler wrap the couple like stage directions or subtitles, providing slivers of lyrical commentary. Now, he observes, ‘‘they both unfold, awaken’’. Despite his wife’s warning, the Man stumbles to express himself in stark phrases, part poetry, part language imploding as he ges-
tures towards things grief has made impossible: This is impossible. It’s no longer possible that we, that the sun, that the watches, the shops, that the moon ...
Most terrible is the impossibility of ‘‘the children/ of others’’, with its imprint of that very possibility. The Man cherishes his wife (‘‘loveliest of all are your tender,/ curved arms’’) and knows that ‘‘life is in the place/ where you/ ladle soup/ under the glowing light’’, but he is driven by the need for a tearing off of bandages. He sets out to walk to a place he thinks of as “there’’ that is both a time — ‘‘those days’’ after news of their son’s death — and a place where he might touch his son’s ‘‘inner self/ his gulf’’. He hopes simply to ‘‘be with him/ for one more moment’’.
He walks, ‘‘strange — orbiting himself in a small circle’’, then circles the village. As he becomes Walking Man, other grieving parents collect in the current he creates, each isolated but part of a ghostly choral mourning.
Falling Out of Time enacts the paradox of grief’s inwardness and resonance. Each character has lost a child. From grief’s hermeticism and privacy — the Woman Who Stayed Home sees herself as ‘‘inside it, an overdue/ embryo, ossified,/ conceived by the tragedy and its senescence’’ — emerges a formal question. If mourning involves an impossible witnessing, one that shatters repeatedly on the unspeakable, what radical re-imagining of its ‘‘I’’ might enable expression of a ‘‘wounding by disaster’’?
Grossman’s work explores the ways an ‘‘I’’ enclosed by mourning, as it might be in memoir or elegy, might unfold through telling into recuperation. Early in the work the Woman urges her lover to ‘‘save/ what is left’’. One unbearable aspect is a quality of ‘‘noneness’’ that the loss of a child brings, and the way each parent bears its traces: ‘‘I cannot remember/ you without/ his noneness.’’ Although breaking out of the enclosure of shared loss risks losing the intimacy between them — ‘‘In whose eyes will we look to see him,/ present and absent?’’ — the Man walks outwards into the possibility of solace through expression and its sharing: ‘‘I share the vast expanse his death/created in me.’’