Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Michael Kimball's Us connects the powerful forces of love and death through the process of dying, and the book, itself, is a being, breathing life into the reader and taking life away from the reader. What happens when your loved one must live in a hospital? What would you do? How would you react? What happens when your loved one has only a bit of time to live? What would you do? How would you react? Kimball creates a world which silently, and sadly, asks these thought provoking questions--these questions that float and drift around as ghosts in the brain. This is a story of a husband and wife and their love for each other. But it's not as simple as that. There is this gentility and softness and purity that becomes some kind of being, and this being, by the end of the book, is us. It's love. It's death. It's sadness. It's happiness. It's hands. It's legs, and heads, and beds. It's clocks--it's boiling water.
The author provides a series of concrete images, but at the same, because of the depth and emotion and isolationism behind these descriptions, there is a surreal quality--a silent and lonely voice combined with hope and memories and passion. And these dreamlike tones can be found both at the hospital and at the couple's home. For example:
I whispered things into her ears so that she would remember how to talk and remember me and the things that we did together. I would say that we were going for a walk when I moved her legs and I would say that we were holding hands when I held onto her hands. I would tell her that was she was taking a bath in our bathtub. I would tell her that she was sitting up in a chair or looking out the window or brushing her hair. (58-59)
There is a gap here in what is actually happening and what is going on in the narrator's head, and it is in this gap where the sadness and the love exist--the dichotomy of dreams and reality. This same sadness and love can also be found when the husband and wife go back home:
But my wife wasn't getting any better anymore for those days that we were back home. She began to forget how to live in our house or with me anymore. She forgot what things were or what they were for. We made labels for the refrigerator and the food inside it, for the doors to the kitchen and our bedroom and the bathrooms, for the things that she used in the bathroom, and for the couch and the chairs and the other places where she could sit down. We wrote instructions out for the things that we used around our house--the telephone and the television, the microwave oven and the stove, the toilet and sinks. (93-94).
Again, in this gap, the reader sees the space between the normality of home life and the life of husband and wife coping with death and dying. These small actions, these little motions which take little thought in everyday life become a struggle. It is through these attempts to overcome these obstacles, the fragility, and, the wonder of love grows and grows, and it grows so much that by the end of the book, there will be dampened pages and salt.
by Michael Kimball
Tyrant Books, 2011