As I write this on the morning of Election Day 2018, all the usual clichés about hope are popping into my head. Do I dare to hope? Hope is the thing with feathers. Hoping against hope. Where there’s life there’s hope. I’m on edge, not knowing what to think; feelings careening wildly from one end of the spectrum to the other. Tomorrow will be different, as every day is from the one before, but how will it be different?
Judging from two books I read recently, LESS is more where hope is concerned. Rachel Kushner’s The Mars Room throws a brutal, blinding light on a young woman--murderer, mother, nihilist, druggie. Failed by everyone around her, except her exceptional young son, Romy Hall is imprisoned for finally losing control and beating her stalker to death. Prison, even more deadening and deafening than her former difficult, dead-end life, tests Romy’s strong character. She perseveres, but it ends badly. No one wins, no one is wiser. Faith in humanity is not restored.
In Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie, three Muslim siblings in London, a set of twins just out of high school, and the older sister who raised them after their parents’ deaths, make their unsteady way into a fraught and worrisome world. With the twins out of school, Isma can pursue her long-deferred education. Aneeka is settled in university, but her twin brother Parvaiz is at a loose end, having failed to get a place at university. The siblings’ father was a jihadist and Parvaiz, confused and bitter, gets snared in ISIS’s web. Meanwhile the two sisters become involved with the son of a prominent British politician of Pakistani descent. Like The Mars Room, this book ends in glaring lights and a cacophony of sirens.
But then I read News of the World by Paulette Jiles. Set in Texas after the Civil War, the political climate is eerily similar to today’s, uncivil in the extreme, people fiercely divided, watching what they say, even with family and friends, much less strangers. Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, a retired army officer in his 70s, earns his living giving live readings of newspapers to audiences of people starved for news, many of whom either don’t know how to read or can’t afford an expensive copy of a newspaper from afar. The Captain is offered a large sum of money to accompany Johanna, a 10-year-old girl, captured by Kiowa as a younger child and now released, back to her family. The money will help the Captain to reunite his family, separated by the war, and to reclaim their home in San Antonio. Johanna remembers almost nothing of her past, has no wish to leave her Kiowa family, and resists her repatriation fiercely. But over the long, arduous journey, through no shortage of dangerous adventures, the two misfits come first to an accommodation and then to genuine affection. The scars of war heal over; the world softens into more peaceful times. Johanna finds a good husband who understands her. The Captain dies surrounded by his family and his ward.
I so want to believe that the news of the world will be better tomorrow.
PS – the jury is still out…