What if there is no one at the wheel.
What do you mean.
I mean we wonder so much about intent in this novel, about Kohler’s intentions versus Gass’s intentions and whose are primary and how we are meant to conflate or separate the two, but what if neither writer nor narrator is driving this book. What if the whole thing, the bloated bundle of pages, the complete collection of words, the entire enchilada, what if it is all simply symptom, cause’s effect, history’s inevitable utter vomit.
What must of necessity come back out when you stuff the world full to bursting with violence and optimism.
Of course then the question is: what next.
Loss in life: that’s what I mourn for; that’s what we all mourn for, all of us who have been touched by the fascism of the heart. It’s not having held what was in our hands to hold; not having felt the feelings we were promised by out parents, friends, and lovers; not having got the simple goods we were assured we had honestly earned and rightfully had coming.
— from The Tunnel by William Gass
You can read pages and pages of this book without connecting with a word of it, or without seeing the connections that might (or might not) be forming between the words, between them and you. It can feel very much like trying to see the entirety of the horizon from a single black jigsaw puzzle piece, plucked at random from a jar of thick sludge. Who is this guy, what is his story, what is he trying to tell me? Why do I sort of detest him even when I sometimes sort of think he’s maddeningly brilliant in the way he spins his words into meaningful prose?
For all its dispensing of plot and deconstruction of character, though, The Tunnel is still, at heart, a confessional, a book (weirdly) within the confessional tradition. And therefore begs us to allow ourselves to see ourselves in the narrator’s shoes, or, in this book, in his chair. Now and then, recognition glimmers. However murky. However much it sits uncomfortably in our laps.
It’s a perfect book for today, in its way. In our social media culture, how much of each other do we actually ever get to know? Whither the connections?
I’ve been reading The Tunnel by William H. Gass for the latest Big Read at Conversational Reading. In large part because it’s one of those many books I’ve bought along the way with great intentions only to watch them slowly collect years’ worth of dust and dammit if I’m not going to read at least a few of them before I die.
“Reading” might be the wrong word though. The wrong term. It’s more like, more like drifting through it, like a photo of a vacation taken before the trip actually takes place. You see it but you don’t really get it. You don’t taste the ice cream. You don’t sweat the sun. You’re not at all there.
It really is a constant, claustrophobic reminder of human morality, of limitations on experience. A single trip is almost wasted on trying to grab it as it happens. While a return trip is only going to cost you.