Thursday, April 03, 2008

April Commquote

Media plays a haunting role in this passage from Mary Karr's devastating memoir, The Liar's Club, in not only its failed capacity to make connections, indeed it even blocks them (phone gets returned to its cradle, TVs turned up to drown out a crisis), but they way it is also used as a metaphor for a father's ability to compartmentalize, shut out family emergencies. The narrator describes his inattention to their plight in terms of turning the volume up or down and channel changing. Rather than ameliorate connections media only serve to underscore isolation and miscommunication.

This passage comes from one of the more harrowing scenes in the book. The depressed and alcoholic mother has started a bonfire of the family's possessions, including the childrens' clothes and toys as they helplessly look on. The narrator, the younger of the two daughters, describes the neighbors' and her father's (who is at work) indifference. A Mrs. Heinz peers out her window for a minute, the lets the pink-checkered curtain fall back down:

"The other neighbors have done the same. I feel them all releasing us into the deep drop of whatever is about to happen. Each curtain falls. Each screen door is pulled tight, and every door hook clicks into its own tight eye, and even big heavy doors get heaved closed in the heat, and all the bolts are thrown. I can almost hear it happening all over the neighborhood. TVs get turned louder to shut out the racket of us. Anyone might have phoned Daddy and said, Pete, looky here. This ain't none of my bi'ness, but . . . (The thought that burdens me most today is that somebody did call Daddy to let him know, and Daddy--gripped by the same grinding machine that gripped us--just stayed in the slot that fate had carved for him and said he planned to come on home directly. Or said kiss my rosy red ass, for Daddy could turn the volume on any portion of the world up or down when he had a mind to. I can very well picture his big hand setting the phone back in its black cradle. The men on his unit might have been frying up some catfish they'd caught. From high in his tower, he could have looked out that curved window across fields of industrial pipes and oil-storage tanks, past the train yards to the grid of identical houses--in the yard of one of which Mother was setting fire to our lives--and maybe Daddy just decided to change the channel away from that fire to the sizzle of cornbread-dipped catfish floating in hot lard. Boy that fish smells good, I can imagine him saying.)"

--Mary Karr, The Liar's Club, 2005 edition, pp. 153-154

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