The Sorrow Proper is a novel-length investigation of the anxiety that accompanies change. A group of aging librarians must decide whether to fight or flee from the end of print and the rise of electronic publications, while the parents of the young girl who died in front of the library struggle with their role in her loss. Anchored by the transposed stories of a photographer and his deaf mathematician lover each mourning the other's death, The Sorrow Proper attempts to illustrate how humans of all relationslovers, parents, colleaguescope with and challenge social "progress," a mechanism that requires we ignore, and ultimately forget, the residual in order to make room for the new, to tell a story that resists "The End."
This debut novel explores the hypothetical end of the public library system and a young theory in the hard sciences called Many Worlds, a branch of quantum mechanics that strives to prove mathematically that our lives do not follow a singular, linear path.
Lindsey Drager's prose has appeared most recently in Web Conjunctions, Gulf Coast, West Branch Wired, Black Warrior Review, Cream City Review, Quarterly West, Kenyon Review Online, and elsewhere. A Michigan native, she is a PhD candidate at the University of Denver where she edits the Denver Quarterly.
|Edition description:||New Edition|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.50(d)|
About the Author
Lindsey Drager's prose has appeared most recently in Web Conjunctions, Gulf Coast, West Branch Wired, Black Warrior Review, Cream City Review, Quarterly West, Kenyon Review Online, and elsewhere. A Michigan native, she is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Denver where she edits the Denver Quarterly.
Read an Excerpt
By Cecilia Stefanescu, Alexandra Coliban, Andreea Höfer
Peter Owen PublishersCopyright © 2013 Cecilia Stefanescu
All rights reserved.
If that darkness had suddenly burst like a bubble, it would have spilled its odourless juice and spread all over the walls of the concrete cube, melting the white shadows that constantly circled the bed and furrowed the room. Their terror and dreadfulness would have evaporated in a second, leaving them cast into oblivion forever. But they kept undulating in the air, squirming across the walls and slicing the darkness; swelling and trickling down the fresh duck-egg-blue paint and between the snowy peaks of pargeting. Then they fell still, resuming their places and watching over the boy who slept peacefully, legs wide apart, with one knee bent and one arm dangling.
Above him, a couple of hairy guys clad in studded leather bent slightly forward with their guitars resting on their hips, were gazing into the distance, their eyes shiny embers scanning the rocky horizon. Ten cars stood aligned nearby, ready to shatter the thick air and plunge into a devilish race. A layer of dust had covered their smoky windscreens like a fishnet, and the huge wall of open engines behind them rose menacingly in anticipation of the start of the race. The drivers sat perfectly still, not a fibre on their waxen faces moving: all gazed straight ahead. Only the iris of one of the drivers had been erased, leaving a white, cold globe that seemed to presage death.
A fine and scintillating fog had descended, and from behind it the big, round sun prepared to emerge, like a chocolate coin covered in tinfoil. Right next to the cars, though keeping a certain distance, a wooden knight bent over the body of an unconscious girl. She was frozen still, with her skirt plumped up and her boots hanging in midair, while the knight gripped the sabre at his waist with one hand and with the other helplessly clutched her arm. The girl lay on the green grass, and her ruby lips, her rosy cheeks and her golden hair matched his embroidered uniform, teeming with blazonry and insignia.
Yet in the half-bent body of the helpless and desperate young man, in the way he concealed his face beneath the khaki felt hat and held her lifeless hand, sinking his fingers into the pinkish flesh, a well-kept secret lay hidden. Any minute, tears could start falling from his well-shielded eyes, and you might see him collapse over the girl's stone-still body while, at the same time, you wouldn't have been surprised to see her opening her blue eyes, stirred by the pain of the one who, rather more dead than alive, pressed her now with all his might, with all the years he had gathered in his bones, his flesh, his muscles and his skin.
But the only motion in the room came from the rolled-up bedclothes. It was the chubby toes with close-cut nails that first started to twitch, followed by an arm that fell limp over the margin of the bed. Lastly, the hypnotic head with dishevelled hair emerged, partly from a dream and partly from reality: balancing on a narrow edge, leaning now on this side, now on the other.
Sal half-opened his eyes, staring through his eyelashes at the striped wall in front of him. Then he closed his eyes again and the stripes resumed their rocking against the rattling of a car that had just passed on the street. He rose for a second, staring at the ceiling, and then turned on his side. The darkness in the room was furrowed by the golden ribbons of light flickering through the lowered blinds. Sal sat up, staring sleepily ahead.
It was late afternoon and, by the faint light straining to pass through the wooden slats, he was sure it was long past the time he was supposed to call Emi. He thought of crashing back down and searching for the warm hole the crown of his head had left in the pillow's down, but was deterred by his neck, wet with perspiration, and the sweaty palms that he had been waving in the air for a few moments, cooling him down. He was waiting for the moment in which he would realise that it was terribly late and that Emi, poisoned by the endless minutes passed in relentless countdown, would no longer answer.
He jumped up like a robot and fumbled around the room, stumbling over a chair and moaning in pain. Finally he managed to spot his trousers, pulled them on quickly and, after a few seconds of lying in wait to make sure there was no one spying on him on the other side of the door, scuttled away. He left behind a big, golden dust cloud, a glittering powder that glazed his footprints, while the pink soles of his feet sparkled, nested in their footwear, releasing pheromones and bright messages.
When finally outside, at an adequate distance a few houses away, he sniffed the air happily. Then, cautious not to bump into one of the boys, he started for Emi's place, balancing on the edge of the pavement.
Emi's mother had called him 'the special boy', accompanying the words with a deprecating grimace and shaking her head in a way that meant that she had seen boys of that kind before. She used 'special' like some people do when trying to be condescendingly polite, referring to some kind of handicap or simply to a death-row convict whose case, in their opinions, is totally hopeless, but to whom they magnanimously lie one last time. But he never answered her spiteful words – on the one hand because she was his friend's mother, and he understood very well that if you had a girl like Emi, you lived with the permanent terror that the world, seized with admiration or possessed by envy, would sooner or later make her disappear; on the other hand because Emi herself was more important than his hurt pride, and last but not least because he had been brought up never to engage in arguments with older people, regardless of what they said. He would flatly say 'Good day' and reply 'Thank you' when he was offered something and even before refusing; he never left the house before saying goodbye to everybody and he usually never phoned between three and half past five in the afternoon, because that was when people took naps.
Emi was the only one with whom he ignored the rule: for three years, excepting the times they were on vacation with their parents, every day at four o'clock Sal would lift the receiver and insert his finger in the rotary dial of the telephone. At the other end of the line, after no more than two rings, he would hear her thin voice: always surprised, as if she had absolutely no clue who could possibly call at that hour, feigning her indifference so poorly and so touchingly when she seemed to recognise him at last. He imagined her rounding her mouth in a prolonged and demure 'Hello', followed by an interval and then by a short 'Ah!' that set everything back in place. So that it would always be clear that he had been the one calling and it was also he that wished to see her, he invited her out – he lured her out of the house, out of her safe shell, her hospitable cocoon.
She was merciless, especially on herself; she had enforced a draconian schedule that she followed unfalteringly and mysteriously. She would wake up at six every morning, and she never went to bed before midnight. She would constantly complain that the eighteen hours were barely enough for her to do all that she had in mind; she had lists of books to read, diaries to keep, places to go, people to see. Her vacations were similar to her school hours except that, when she became the manager of her own time, she became maniacally rigorous and punished anyone who would upset, even by a minute, the meticulous agenda of the day. He liked her like that, paradoxical and conceited – he took her conscientiousness as a whim – but he had no doubt that behind her struggle against time another secret lay hidden, well guarded and terribly seductive.
He had liked her right from the start, when he had found her on Harry's rug swimming among piles of Pif, Pionniers de l'Espérance and Rahan magazines. A thick cloud of dust had risen around her, making all the other boys seek refuge in the hall and leaving her to rule over the magazines, the pages of which were covered in a layer of slime mould mixed with dust and the grease left by the tips of fingers that had once turned them over.
Emi had been waving a pair of scissors above her head and looked like an Amazon determined to decimate her subjects, hacking their faces and limbs to pieces and cutting off the roots that kept them alive in their intergalactic environment. Thanga the R roller, the fair Maud, Tsin-Lu with her slanting eyes and the handsome Rodion lay at her feet. She had abandoned Mr Wright and Tom, for their lives had been shortened from the beginning anyway. The girls' images, she had cut out carelessly, while she had preserved every millimetre of suit and every hair on the images of boys. Disaster lay all around her, but nobody knew; she had been left alone because she had promised to dust the magazines, to wipe them clean and put them in chronological order – and they, the boys, were now peacefully relaxing around a full can of elderflower fizz in the kitchen, all chatting at the same time, boastful and impatient.
He stopped in the doorway, pop-eyed. The warrior girl grinned at him, exposing the gap between teeth and gums, and wiped her lower lip with the pointed tip of her tongue. She continued to manipulate the scissors, plunging them into the paper without seeming to mind the newcomer, while he, instead of leaving, remained still, watching her and wishing he could find inside himself the courage to stop her, to snatch the torture tools from her hands and to expose her, shame her, humiliate her.
He came closer and stopped right next to her, stepping on the precious scraps of paper that lay on the floor. He heard neither protests nor sighs. Like a little robot, she had returned to her snipping, and he stood still for a long time, waiting for her to reach for the pages beneath his feet, looking forward to her asking him to set her loot free.
When she touched the tips of his toes, she looked up, languorously and all feline; he saw her imaginary tail twirling and coiling up his ankles like poison ivy, her eyes beseeching without a word. But he didn't yield. He knew her – he had seen her wandering around the neighbourhood – and he had also heard various boys making passes at her; he had heard of their escapades and the cheerful hormones that made their eyes bulge. They had gone soft and tearful, and they had exiled him from the centre of the group to the margin; they had shown him what real loneliness meant, how different it was from the imaginary kind he hypocritically liked to cultivate.
He had found himself watching her moves and waiting, in horror, to find her one day at the centre of the gang, a merciless ruler. He expected her to execute him in a trice, ignoring him and thus teaching the others a lesson: they needn't stand gaping at his stories, listening to him piously and even believing him, for they could do perfectly well without him – they could even feel freer and happier, for they would discover by themselves what he once gave them for nothing, enslaving them by his omniscience.
And now, as he stealthily entered the room, sniffing her scent from the doorway (for her skin had the stench of hell and of terrible banishment), he was facing the end and had decided to confront it with woe and helplessness. This was an unexpected decision that had thrust its claw in his head and now held him as a light bulb, strenuously screwing him into a smaller and smaller socket as it increased its urgency: to conquer her, as he had done with the rest of the gang, to subdue her and then to annihilate her with their boyish weapons.
'Do you need any help?'
She put on a wry smile; pushing out her lower lip slightly and making it tremble. He was enjoying the moment and would have died to be able to capture it, to stick her dumbfounded face on a poster and to put it at the head of his bed next to the hairy rock stars – to remember, a long time from now, that instant of ephemeral glory, and to show it to anyone who might doubt him and his leadership qualities.
He knelt and handed her the magazines; she took them, half cautious. She hesitated before opening them but, because his humble attitude could have tricked the most skilled double agent, she opened them and went on hacking. With her nose in the cloud of dust, she uttered a stifled 'Thanks!'
Sal rose to his feet and sat down on the couch, right in front of her. The slender body and the sharp shoulders supported a round head on which a round mouth, two round eyes and a small nose with a pinkish tip were drawn. The black hair, cropped short, made her look like a tomboy. Only the thick, long and beautifully curved eyelashes gave her away for what she was: a girl infiltrating the sterile and safe environment of the trouser-wearers. His daydream was interrupted by a grumble that sounded more like a noise in the beginning.
'I beg your pardon?'
'Are you angry at me?' she asked in a loud, authoritative voice that suggested the answer.
Sam was sure now that she had done it on purpose. 'No,' he answered idly.
'I have the impression that you are enraged ... because of me.'
'Nonsense. I don't even know you!'
She raised her eyebrows. 'That's strange. I know you. I know you well. I have seen you several times on my street.'
'On your street?' he exclaimed, emphasising the words. 'A friend of mine happens to live on your street. Maybe that's why you saw me, if you did see me.'
An ardent smile had bloomed on Emi's face. She had no need to say anything else; he could say it himself, he could blurt it out before she opened her mouth to mumble who knows what nasty thing.
'So,' she drawled, slowly and clearly, 'you know where I live, which proves that you also know me, just as I supposed and said before.'
The only noise remaining was the drill of the scissors advancing, this time through his flesh. He wanted to leave, but the very thought of the effort it would take to rise from the couch and to walk all the way to the door, across the carpet of paper scraps, followed by her eyes, exhausted him. There was no way for him to win her over now, because the girl had bared her teeth and, in an ambiguous yet significant way, had declared war, making him understand that she was not willing to leave the battlefield very soon – at any rate, not before a few drops of blood had fallen on the carpet.
He was hurt by the unspectacular defeat. Of course, it was a matter of time to allow for the intruder's thin-skinned image to wear out, but was he really powerful enough to last that long under the soft, fluffy slippers that burned the crown of his head?
In the midst of this thought, he felt the couch slip from underneath him and, before managing to come back to his senses, he realised that the girl, having turned around like a whirligig, had already seized his calves with her arms and was now pulling him, with an unbelievable strength, off the couch and down beside her. He fell on his hands with all his weight.
He let himself down on his behind, shaking his head a few times uncomprehendingly. It was only after seeing the tiny beads of blood flowering through the pores on the soft skin of his hand, as if through blotting paper, that he started to feel the smarting pain. And over the pain, burning like acid on flesh, lay the shame.
Emi was frozen in a funny position, in full assault, but seeing that Sal was struggling not to whimper or release the whines that would have eased his pain and calmed his scare, she started to laugh doltishly. Then she settled down and looked him up and down with eyes in which he could see the mad sparkle of victory.
'It hurts; say that it hurts! A chicken would be braver than you!' she concluded, turning her back on him and muttering away in her sleeve. She grabbed the scissors and bent over the magazines, as if, in the same instant, she had already forgotten he was there.
He was angry, but at the same time he realised that much of their encounter – and of his defeat in their confrontation – was his fault, the outcome of carelessness and weakness and of the confidence with which he had entered the room, underestimating his opponent. His tailbone and his palms hurt and, while standing up, he felt the ground slipping under his feet. He staggered a bit, so slightly that it was as though the room seemed to have staggered and then fallen upside down, and then the ceiling fell over him like a blanket full of glass wool: heavy like glass and light as wool, or like a cloud with the appearance of candy floss, only it was neither glassy nor sweet or sticky but dense and fluffy.
Excerpted from Sun Alley by Cecilia Stefanescu, Alexandra Coliban, Andreea Höfer. Copyright © 2013 Cecilia Stefanescu. Excerpted by permission of Peter Owen Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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