marginalia || Man Walks Into a Room, by Nicole Krauss

I post my thoughts books I’d read under the category Marginalia—and that’s what most of it is, my notes about a book (scribbled on the margins or not), questions I pose to myself, quotes that made my heart flutter. For the blog, I summon my English 101 skillz and attempt organization and a coherency.

For this post, I’m letting you in on the blathering all over the pages of Mini-Red-Moley. The following is as it appears on my notebook (with only a few changes for formatting’s sake):

* * *

# 47 (of 2010) – Man Walks Into a Room

– a novel by Nicole Krauss

His belief in his past life was polite: the kind one manufactures when in conversation with the faithful.

At first, it wasn’t that engaging: I flipped through the pages because I was promised (by hype? by praises sung? by my experience of her second novel, The History of Love?) that this would be a great read. Samson has been found in the desert, with no memory of who he is. A brain tumor lodged in his, well, brain. With the removal of the tumor, the removal of twenty-plus years of Samson life. Though he retains memories after the surgery, all he actually remembers stops at his twelfth year.

Dude’s got the memories of a twelve-year-old, but the sensibilities of a grown man. I am confused. Isn’t memory supposed to make us? [From a Philo reading, by St. Augustine—“I had become to myself a huge question” and “Nothing defines me more intimately than my memory… how then can I not only forget, but (and how would I know it otherwise?) remember that I have forgotten that which I have, nonetheless, forgotten? How do I remember that I have forgotten what I no longer remember? …Thus there remains for me nothing else but to admit that I have kept in memory the image of the forgotten, but not that which I have forgotten… Thus if my own memory renders me a stranger to myself, how could I not also become other than myself in the experience of my will?”]

Samson and his wife Anna. It gets good around page 38. An examination of relationships, how Samson deals with his memory loss by resolutely walking away from what he has forgotten. BUT. I thought this was going to be just that—an insular novel about memory and loving. And then, well, it got science-y. Samson has become part of this radical project—and the science is hokey; we are told the wrong things. My interest wanes, but I am attached to Samson now, his character, his sensitivities.

I’d wondered about point of view: why it’s Samson who has to tell us his story, why not Anna? The genius—and the bravery—of the decision stuck to me: here is a man who had a gaping whole in his own narrative—and isn’t our narrative largely concerned with our memory?—and Krauss has given him the responsibility of telling his story.

♦ I’m halfway through the novel. Samson has to be the one telling his story. This has gone beyond the heartaches between him and his wife Anna: this is him stepping inside his mind.

Billions of binaries, one or zero: simple as that. Like a game of Twenty Questions, an endless series of deductions performed to break down the world into its smallest parts. Are you Samson Green, one or zero? Is this your wife, one or zero? Do you love her? One or zero. We repeat the question: Do you love her, one or zero? The subject appears to be having difficulty answering. Is this a difficult question, one or zero? Until the world is reduced to math and all the equations equal zero, and in the tremendous silence of that final moment they ask in a trembling voice, the only ones left: Does the world exist? One or zero. And the answer comes back, though there is no one left anymore to hear it, the digits on the clock rolling back to start again with nothing.

♦ Every person Samson meets is mysterious: Lana Porter, Ray, Donald, even his wife. Not just how Samson relates with them (or related with them), but these people’s intentions. Does Samson’s almost-blank slate lend this mystery and ambiguity to most things?

♦ Donald and Samson are in the desert. I like Donald, he’s the least malevolent character I’ve come across. And he’s funny. – A beautiful quote:

He watched the old man sleep and felt the vast loneliness of the world, the loneliness passed from person to person like a beach ball at a rock concert, kept aloft at all costs, and this was his moment to shoulder it. Or maybe it was his own personal loneliness, a solitary, errant longing no one else could ever know, and the knowledge of this stoked the already existing loneliness, made it widen and blur at the edges until it included everything.

♦ More on memory (Samson reflects on how he could not remember his mother’s death, how his mother was suddenly lost to him)—this quote reminds me of Kael’s poetry:

To touch and feel each thing in the world, to know it by sight and by name, and then to know it with your eyes closed so that when something is gone, it can be recognized by the shape of its absence. So that you can continue to possess the lost, because absence is the only constant thing. Because you can get free of everything except the space where things have been.

♦ This novel is getting out of control. The project, the memories, a lot of strangers, a pointless drunken quest to retrieve slides? A lot of searching. But I’m getting exasperated—this part of the novel has so many moments that are so stunning, but they don’t belong in the actual novel. They’re better than the actual novel, which has disappointed me (in general). So disquieting.

But, as I remember from my experience with The History of Love, the ending left me unsatisfied. Or perhaps the better word would be “bothered.” Resolutions aren’t that important in Krauss’ novels—not answers, not explanations, These are examinations, this meandering conclusion. Something bothers me about Krauss’ voice. It’s too there, for one. She’s too aware of her lyricism. In her second novel, this poetic tendency is tempered, more seamless.

Still. A tender anthropology, this Krauss.

I wonder if I’d been happier if Krauss stuck to that insular story. But I do know I’m pleased that this was her first novel—she got extremely better with her second one. I’m waiting for her third.

[Finished reading 07 MARCH, SUNDAY. Very early in the morning.]

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13 comments

  1. I admit to having skimmed your post as you know I have yet to read this and I like to know nothing about books before I read them. Will go back to this in a few months.

    Just want to comment that I’ve seen a lot of bloggers say they were bothered or didn’t like the ending of History of Love and some even said the ending spoiled the whole book for them. I had the opposite reaction. Really thought it was the perfect ending.

    But anyway, are you going ahead with the couples thing? :) I’m reading Eggers now (The Wild Things). Have Zeitoun on hand as well. Though not sure when I can grab hold of a Vida. How many books has she written? I’ve only read Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name.

    1. No problem, :) I know that my post’s a little spoiler-ish, being that I copied it directly from my notebook.

      Re History, I’d read it about two years ago (?), and I still remember how that ending was a letdown. I don’t even remember how it was a letdown, haha, just that I know it made, for me, what could have been a wonderful book into one that was merely good.

      And that couples thing is a silly project in attempt to put some order in my reading, haha. I haven’t even read Vida–and nowhere in the Philippines is she stocked, eek. I have a lot of Eggers in my bookshelf, and I haven’t gotten around to reading him. That’s why I thought of this project–to coerce me into getting married writers off my TBR list. :)

  2. I also skimmed this post because I have the book and intend to read it in the near future and didn’t want to have any preconceived notions going in. But I am with you on looking forward to Krauss’s third book! It can’t come soon enough!

    1. Looking forward to your post when you finally do read this. And that third book, I’m just at the edge of my seat waiting for it–Krauss is an author that gets exponentially better, me thinks (I hope!)

  3. Piper · · Reply

    Wow, this is a great post. I’d love to steal your little notebook, lol. I love how your mind works. So glad that I’ve read the book so I could read this post. I’d love to read more of this format from you! Loving your blog more and more.

    1. Thank you, Piper. :) Though, there seems to be a problem with the spoilers, haha. I figured at the beginning of this blog that I’ll just have this digital version of my little notebook. But I have readers (OMG, haha), so, yeah. I’ll have to find a way around this, ;p

      Again, thank you!

  4. candletea · · Reply

    I love the way you wrote about this book. I’ve read the History of Love and I remember that I liked it a lot, I’m thinking about waiting for her third novel before trying to read this one though. This one might be a bit too all over the place for me.

    1. Thank you. It’s copied from the notes I scribble on my reading journal. :) And I really do prefer History than this debut of hers. How her talent grows with every book just makes me look forward to her third one more.

  5. Where did you get it? :( I haven’t seen that anywhere here.

    But I don’t know if I want to read it anymore.

    Also… I love that St. Augustine excerpt you sneaked into there.

    1. I borrowed it from Kael. Or, well, Kael dumped it, along with other books, onto my lap. Implying I was now responsible for it.

      I think we should all just reread History, but that’s the snooty me talking.

      St. Augustine kicks ass once in a while. Haha, I loved that quote/thought so much, I wanted to hog the class discussion with it alone. :p

  6. […] Man Walks Into a Room, by Nicole Krauss. […]

  7. Amenah Jafarey · · Reply

    I literally just finished reading this book, like 5 minutes ago and I agree with everything you have said about it. I thought I was the only one who felt it was all over the place, so I decided to look up reviews and came across this. Anyway. Some parts of the book were definitely stunning and I love Krauss’ choice of words. But some of the parts in the book, like meeting Luke, going to the hospital for the slides, taking Max out of the old home, the calls to Anna, meeting Lana, they were loose ends. I feel like there was no purpose in adding them in because they added up to nothing in the end. I feel like they were things that just happened, for no particular reason, and that’s why I didn’t feel moved by the whole story by the end of it. There had to be a profound thought behind all those things but there wasn’t. I almost feel like reading it again just to find that thought, feeling like I might have missed it. But I’m sure I’m wrong. Oh well. I loved History of Love. This was definitely a disappointment.

  8. Amenah Jafarey · · Reply

    I meant meeting Pip, not Lana. But meeting Lana, too.

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