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One Writer's World

What I'm reading . . .

It should be no surprise that I read a lot of mysteries, but I like to read in other genres as well. Recently I picked up Mohsin Hamid's new book The Last White Man. If nothing else, this is an intriguing title, so I checked it out of the library and settled in during an evening last weekend to read it. The story opens with a young white man waking up one morning to discover that he has brown skin. He's confused, uncertain what has happened or how it happened. He calls in sick to his job, at a gym, and waits for his skin to fade to white. But it doesn't fade. Nothing changes, so the next day he tells his boss things are worse and he won't be in all week. The boss is not happy. I don't want to spoil the story for those who haven't read it, and I urge you to do so. It's a short tale (fewer than 200 pages), and held my interest. But there is one aspect that struck me throughout.


Hamid is a master of the run-on sentence. At first I thought he was prone to long, convoluted passages, but as I read closely, I saw that wasn't the case. My ever-present grammarian hovered over my shoulder pointing out all the comma splices and independent clauses hooked on with little more than "and," sometimes running on to half a page or more. My interest in the story shushed the grammarian, but by the end of the book I was wholely in Hamid's camp. His never-ending, barely punctuated, and rarely properly linked sentences kept up an easy flow of movement and thought through what was a fraught situation for the main character. I imagined a paragraph recast with proper punctuation, and it would have ruined the reading experience. The style mattered for the story, a tale of one man, and then others, in a situation well beyond their comprehension and certainly their control. Life flowed on, and the characters could only ride the circumstances.


I would love to hear how others feel about this writing style, as well as the many other layers of the story. The author explores racism and its moments from an unexpected perspective, opening the reader's eyes to thirty seconds that can change a day or a relationship, before life moves on. How does anyone cope with the loss of what has defined someone's identity? If you're familiar with the book, I hope you'll comment here.

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Building and Rebuilding


 A year ago a friend told me this was going to be a year of change and growth. She was definitely right about the first, and I expect when the dust settles, she'll have been right about the second. I think of this year as one of building.
In June my husband died after six months on hospice, and a couple of years almost there, after several years of recovering his health so he could walk five miles a day. He was known throughout the neighborhood as the man with the dogs with the same name. Rob 1, Rob 2, Rob 3, and Rob 4, the current occupant of our home.
When I was a child, we had a dog named Chebacco Rob Roy, a purebred lab, who lived a long and charmed life until the end. He came to us before leash laws, never knew what a leash was unless he was going to the vet's, and wandered the neighborhood without any complaints from anyone. Those dogs and their lives don't exist anymore. In my mother's later years, she was given a shelter dog named Rob, and when she died we took him to live with us. So began the numbering.
When Michael died, I had already been walking the dog solo for almost a year and a half, and didn't think anyone would comment one way or the other. But people did. They asked if something had happened to Mike (everyone called him Mike except me and the rest of his family)? Was this Rob 4? Yes and yes. People driving by stop, runners call out and wave, dog walkers stop to tell me our dogs are friends. To my ongoing surprise and delight, I am discovering my husband had another world of neighbors I knew little about. I am now the lady with the dog.
This is all part of rebuilding my life as a widow, a woman without a partner, but a woman with a dog. All of us have to do this at one time or another in our lives. If we lose a job we love because of downsizing, merging, or another reason, we are no longer who we thought we were, and we begin the task of finding a new job, a new way of viewing our work. A parent becomes ill and we are the child who lives closest, and all of a sudden we are the organizer of caregiving. And then the parent dies and we are all of a sudden the oldest of the siblings. We adjust. We take on new roles.
On my walk today I met the mason building the stonewall pictured above.  The two-family apartment building is being upgraded into two condos. He gave me a tour of the neighborhood through a history of the stone work he had done—and he's done a lot. I recognized all the sites, but had never seen him at work at them. He's a craftsman leaving behind a legacy of fine work as he looks to the next job.
That's the way to look at the changes in our lives, at least how I try to look at the changes in mine. I've done my best in the challenges life presented to me, and now I'm building a new life that will bring new challenges and, I hope, new successes. I hope all of you reading this will feel the same optimism and hope as you face the challenges unique to you.

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