Making Sense: James Murdoch
Within the pages of this book you will meet many different people whose voices you will hear, listen to and try and understand as their stories unravel, they bear their souls to readers and try and explain why life has dealt them difficult hands that forced them to do the things that they did which impacted the lives of others. Within the first story we meet Thomas whose life seems quite sheltered, organized and structured. Promptness is equal to godliness, lateness is unforgiveable and dealing in numbers, their meanings and values helps him to stay on task and point. As you hear him speak with the man he refers to as Doctor, and listens to his words you realize that Thomas has his own single thoughts, his visions, and voices that instruct him as to where to go, how to deal with his daily life and when he is supposed to be at a specific place. Living his life according to numbers, which never fail you and you, can trust, he works himself up into frenzy and winds up having a nervous breakdown in public. Going to the same place for lunch each day, equating what to say to the waitress and living his life with structure and rigidity, Thomas finds himself within a shell that only contains numbers, figures and 2+2 is an act of faith according to Thomas. It is not so until you believe it to be so! Interesting thought if you think about it. He believes what he wants and he is settling for a world that makes sense to him. The next story is about a woman who becomes fixated on another woman that she sees on the bus. Her mind wanders as to her appearance, her clothes, her face and the thrust of her private conversation within herself is that this woman could never be a model. Yet, she takes her apart piece by piece and creates a life within her own thoughts that she thinks she might be living. Riding on the bus this woman does not take notice of our narrator yet she thinks that perhaps she might be wondering why she chose her of all people. Thinking that maybe she might notice of talk to her but not today: maybe tomorrow. Within both stories both narrators seem to live within their own insulated worlds that they have created as we come to another story where the characters might remind you of someone you know: Coping. What would you do if you realized your husband was having an affair with your sister? What would you do if he had many other indiscretions? How would be deal with it? Within this story our narrator relates how she watches her mother deal with the world and life “ With the sound off.” In other words she sees, but does not compute. She makes excuses for the foibles or mistakes of others but none are due. What exactly is selective hearing? Well in this case the mother hears and sees what she wants as the narrator relates that she feels she does not let her brain register or understand what is really happening in her life or because of those around her.
Questions that were left unasked are now being asked as the narrator’s father passes away and she finds the need to bring to light the truth about her father. Her mother she states hears what she feels is “safe to hear.” So, like a sculptor or create painter she created her own masterpiece of life that she could live with and not worry about any flaws. When answering her daughter’s question you will be amazed at her response and wonder: Just whose world had the sound off and why the pain was able to go away with 8 simple words that she spoke. Happiness is whatever we want it be read the story and find out why.
Within each of the stories the main narrator or person they are describing has is trying to deal with and make sense of their lives in many different ways. As you read each story and learn more about their problems, feelings and issues, you the reader might find it plausible to reassess your own life and try to make sense out of some of your difficult situations too. As we come to another story that I would like to spotlight: Stray. One man who can’t seem to find a place that he can call home. One man who seems to live on the edge of nowhere and wonders where his life is going as he finally moves from his home, one that he considers a mere shell that protected him and his family but no longer exists. Leaving home he describes his feelings, ambitions and why he wound up on the wrong side of many things. Burying himself in his work and never really relating to anyone or anything special. As he travels through life he is no different than the man in the first story he needs numbers to have equalize him, the woman who buries her head you might say in the sand and this man who runs or roams from place to place trying to find something he can call home. He like many that fined them alone in the world and with no place to call their own often define himself or herself as a dog or cat might without an owner as a stray. They really do not belong to anything or anyone and are just floundering until maybe they will stop, look, and listen and turn up the sound. There are many stories that I could spotlight but I will focus on two more.
Life: is an interesting story about a man who loves his wife yet wants more. Meeting an old girlfriend he decides to test the waters and see what happens if two old friends decide to hook up. Flashing back to his family, his grandfather and then focusing on Helen, he puts his wife Mary, in the back of his mind and forges ahead to see what happens. But, incidents arise and he begins to think about Helen when he is intimate with his wife and you wonder whether she, Mary and the woman in the story Coping, are enjoying life with the sound turned off in order cope with what is happening in the present. Does he realize that he made a mistake? What happens when he returns home? What will his Life be like? Will Mary let on that she knows? Will he just resume as if nothing happens? Read the ending and you decide for yourself where Mary and Stephen are going.
Two short stories one dealing with a young girl who finds out she was adopted and the next one about a young boy who is having relations for the first time. In Katherine and Juliet we hear the narrator’s voice as she learns she is adopted, what she does to find out who she really is and the final outcome that will surprise you. The next is about a young man who describes his first time and then well I guess he’s on a roll ready to tell about the second. What he telling you about will surprise you and the end result spills over to another story titled Objects of Affection and Intention where this same character returns. Finally, the last story that I want to spotlight is called Jewelweed. Vivienne is an old fashioned school teacher you might say as we hear the narrator describe her as if she is a piece of bread with no butter, cream cheese or anything to make it special. She lives her life in a vacuum, tending to everything but herself. Her appearance is not remarkable, the classroom she taught in remained unchanged and she compares her students to flowers that she cares for but not as people. She was left a conservatory and took care the flowers stating when asked her favorite: Jewelweed. Explaining the history or the derivation of this flower you can learn on pages 117-118 and more about Vivienne to follow. She is quite religious, her home is filled with religious items but according to the narrator they are of poor quality. How they met and their relationship is discussed but mainly the narrator allows the reader to learn that when looking and judging this woman in a sense she is judging himself too. A story quite telling and an ending quite remarkable as something about her shines through letting you know that she just might be human and have feelings that she keeps hidden within the flowers of her conservatory.
Making sense out of life: read the stories, hear the many voices and you decide where you might fit in and how you still might need to Make Sense out of yours. Very different and unique stories that deal with real life issues in unique and different way. Every story has its own unique voice and characters which sometimes reappear in another story as we realize that the man who left the office before Thomas in story one is the jeweler in the story titled Sub Rosa and then our Thomas is the one that lends the girl in Coping a pen so she is able to write a note and to put in with her child she abandons. There are many stories, which have different dialects such as Disintegration, Zeitgeist and Monsters, which each reader might want to read after referring to the glossary of terms at the end of the book.
“ Numbers come alive when they acquire meaning.” These stories come alive because each one is significant and will get you to thinking about your own life.
Fran Lewis: reviewer