Heel lang dacht ik dat Joan Didion een afstandelijke schrijfster is, iemand die als een journalist (of essayist) afstand neemt van de materie die ze behandelt, om vanuit die afstand tot een plaatsbepaling te komen. Nu ik haar meer lees, merk ik dat dat niet waar is. Didion is bijna obsessief betrokken en vanuit die obsessieve betrokkenheid komt ze tot een verhaal — zonder ooit helemaal vaste grond onder de voeten te krijgen. Bret Easton Ellis noemde Play it as it lays vaak een van van zijn favoriete Amerikaanse romans, en nu ik het boek heb herlezen (en opnieuw door Less than zero heb gebladerd) begrijp ik dat heel goed. Er loopt een lijn door het Amerikaanse proza van Henry James en Ernest Hemingway via Joyce Carol Oates en John O’Hara of Paul Auster naar Didion en Ellis. Natuurlijk zijn al deze namen met andere aanvulbaar en is de lijst dus zeker niet compleet.
“I don’t know if you noticed, I’m mentally ill,” the woman said. The woman was sitting next to Maria at the snack counter in Ralph’s Market. “I’m talking to you.” Maria turned around. “I’m sorry.” “I’ve been mentally ill for seven years. You don’t know what a struggle it is to get through a day like this.” “This is a bad day for you,” Maria said in a neutral voice.
“What’s so different about this day.” Maria looked covertly at the pay phones but there was still a line. The telephone in the apartment was out of order and she had to report it. The line at the pay phones in Ralph’s Market suddenly suggested to Maria a disorganization so general that the norm was to have either a disconnected telephone or some clandestine business to conduct, some extramarital error. She had to have a telephone. There was no one to whom she wanted to talk but she had to have a telephone. If she could not be reached it would happen, the peril would find Kate. Beside her the woman’s voice rose and fell monotonously .
“I mean you can’t fathom the despair. Believe me I’ve thought of ending it. Kaput. Over. Head in the oven.’
“A doctor,” Maria said.
“Doctor. I’ve talked to doctors.”
“You’ll feel better. Try to feel better.” The girl now using the nearest telephone seemed to be calling a taxi to take her home from Ralph’s. The girl had rollers in her hair and a small child in her basket and Maria wondered whether her car had been repossessed or her husband had left her or just what had happened, why was she calling a taxi from Ralph’s. “I mean you have to try, you can’t feel this way forever.” “I’ll say I can’t.” Tears began to roll down the woman’s f ace. “You don’t even want to talk to me.”
“But I do.” Maria touched her arm. “I do.”
“Get your whore’s hands off me,” the woman screamed.
Carter called today, but I saw no point in talking to him. On the whole I talk to no one. I concentrate on the way light would strike filled Mason jars on a kitchen windowsill. I lie here in the sunlight, watch the hummingbird. This morning I threw the coins in the swimming pool, and they gleamed and turned in the water in such a way that I was almost moved to read them. I refrained.
One thing in my defense, not that it matters: I know something Carter never knew, or Helene, or maybe you. I know what “nothing” means, and keep on playing.
Why, BZ would say.
Why not, I say.