Falling Out of Time

  • Review
By – March 13, 2014

—I have to go. 
—To him.
—To him, there…. 

The man walks out of the door and begins his jour­ney to there,” where his son, dead five years, is or isn’t, to a place that is or isn’t. As the man walks around the town, he is joined by oth­ers, a mixed band of mourn­ers all seek­ing their lost children.

Their jour­ney is relat­ed by the town chroni­cler, who nar­rates the walk through nights and days. The walk­ers walk because they can­not not walk. Pro­pelled by pain and mem­o­ry, they are seek­ing a place that doesn’t exist but that they feel in their deep­est being, a place where they will once again touch, smell, hold, see a child who is a cap­tive in time, who exists in a freeze-frame pho­to. They recall soc­cer games, home­work, a rock­ing horse, a hand­made cra­dle with two paint­ed ducks. Their chil­dren have not tru­ly died; they have just stopped living.

While they walk they talk — to them­selves, to one anoth­er, to their chil­dren — and at some point fall into a walk­ing sleep, a vivid dream sleep of night thoughts in which they speak to their chil­dren. They fol­low a small con­stant flame that sud­den­ly explodes into a vol­canic infer­no, loos­ing words that have nev­er — would nev­er — have been spo­ken. Then lucid­i­ty, and at last a dra­mat­ic meet­ing with death, with earth, with an insur­mount­able bar­ri­er that is some­how alive with chil­dren. And then it is gone, and the walk­ers are left with their knowl­edge of how life and death/​stand face-to-face,/cooing at each other.”

A rumi­na­tion on the poros­i­ty of the bar­ri­er between life and death, and above all an ele­gy to his son Uri, killed in Lebanon in 2006, dis­tin­guished Israeli author David Gross­man has poured into this book all the lit­er­ary forms this bril­liant­ly imag­i­na­tive writer has at hand — prose, poet­ry, allu­sion, fable, the­ater, nar­ra­tion. The sto­ry is told com­plete­ly in direct speech: the char­ac­ters cre­ate the land­scape, both inter­nal and exter­nal. The lan­guage is sen­su­al, pro­fane, ten­der, bru­tal, a tor­rent of long pent-up emo­tion lust­ing for cathar­sis. Gross­man has said that, hav­ing expe­ri­enced this grief, at least I will try to meet it with my own words and to try to give names and words to things that I have felt.” In so doing, he has giv­en voice to the uni­ver­sal lan­guage of loss.

Maron L. Wax­man, retired edi­to­r­i­al direc­tor, spe­cial projects, at the Amer­i­can Muse­um of Nat­ur­al His­to­ry, was also an edi­to­r­i­al direc­tor at Harper­Collins and Book-of-the-Month Club.

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