Be­yond the soli­tude of parental grief, the pain lingers

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Felic­ity Plun­kett

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.’’

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