generated by

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Quarantine and Being Dead

Author Jim Crace writes books that sound as though they'd be very interesting reads.

In the first book of his I read, Being Dead, a middle aged couple takes the day off from their lives so they can go on a picnic to a spot where they first made love to each other when they were college students. They are killed in a senseless murder at their trysting place, and their bodies are left to be discovered... or not.

The wife hadn't really wanted to spend this day off revisiting a place she doesn't remember quite as fondly as her husband does, but she allows him to convince her to go anyway. Since her husband dies a slower death than she does, he has time to reflect upon the part he has played in her early demise.

As the story moves forward with more information about both the past and the present of this couple, Crace also describes the decomposition of their bodies as they lay exposed to the elements. What could have become repugnant, as descriptions of decomposing bodies often are, was told instead so matter of factly and scientifically that it took on more of an anatomy class account rather than a blood and guts exploration.

This did not, however, improve the telling of the basic story which was about the murdered couple and those people around them affected by their deaths. In fact, this was one of the most clinical descriptions of such an emotional event as I have ever read. As a result, I never really became engaged in the story. By the time I finished the novel, I really couldn't have cared less about those who inhabited it.

The second Crace novel I recently finished is Quarantine. The title of this book refers to the 40 days and 40 nights Jesus spent in the wilderness overcoming Satan's trials. In Crace's version of that experience, Jesus was not alone.

It was common for people during those times to go off into the wilderness for what was termed their "Quarantine". The idea behind it was to come to terms with their own personal demons. To fast and pray during the day and try to understand whatever it was that was causing them such stress.

For one man in the group Jesus followed into the dessert, it was the fact that he had cancer. He chose a Quarantine as a way to deal with that.

For one of the women in the group, she chose Quarantine before her husband could divorce her, his second wife, because she had borne him no children. Her duty as a wife was to provide heirs; in 10 years of marriage she'd failed to do that. Her husband was well within his "rights" to divorce her and move on to a new, probably younger, wife who could fulfill her wifely responsibilities.

There were 5 people in the group Jesus was part of, and on their journey to a suitable place to spend their Quarantine, they came upon a sick, dying man and his wife. All these lives become entwined into the story Crace tells, and at first, the story is very interesting if only because of the details about life in Biblical times.

Insofar as Crace treats this story as something of a religious parable, he aptly describes the attitudes of people who loathe the devil and his work but somehow manage to do his bidding anyway. Or at least until they have found a safe and reasonable way to extricate themselves from his power.

It's the storyline devoted to Jesus that troubled me most because it was odd. I understood the temptations Jesus had thrown at him. What I did not find suitable was Crace's resolution to the Quarantine Jesus imposed on himself. Aside from being a religious icon. Jesus is also a valid historical figure about whom we know certain facts. For me, Crace's ending to Quarantine ignored those facts completely and as a result served up an ending that, for me, was unsatisfactory.

I'm not sorry I read Being Dead or Quarantine, but I have absolutely no idea to whom I'd recommend either of these books. I've also decided I don't need to read any more of Crace's work... no matter how interesting he makes the premise. I just don't think his stories deliver much.

No comments: