AbsurditiesJun 22nd, 2007 | By Ian Poulton | Category: Personal Columns
Life is increasingly absurd – anyone who disagrees should pick up a glossy magazine sometime!
Even serious things have become comical; or just plain silly. Reading Ian McEwan’s Saturday for our parish book club meeting this evening, I suddenly burst out laughing. The leading character is a brain surgeon who is married to an editor wife and they have two children in their early-20s, one a jazz musician of international standing and the other an Oxford graduate and poet about to publish her first collection.
To those who know about such things, this novel is dazzling work that explores society itself; all I could think of was Garrison Keillor’s Wobegon Boy in which the main character has a heroic fictional family
“When I was ten, I got absorbed in the Flambeau Family novels in the Lake Wobegon library and devoured them all in one summer, one by one, sequestered in my bedroom (The Flambeaus and the Case of the Floating Barolo, and the Flippant Bellhop, and the Flying Bonbons, and the Floral Bouquet, the Flagrant Bagel, the Flamboyant Baritone, the Broadway Flop, the Flustered Beagle, and, finally, The Flambeaus’ Final Bow). They were all about Tony, a boy of Manhattan, and his socialite parents, Emile and Eileen. Tony is a junior at St. Trillin’s on West Eighty-ninth, All-City in tennis, an honor student, adored by his girlfriend, Valerie. Tony and his mother, an actress still beautiful at forty-one, and his father, the famed microbiologist, live happily together in their art-filled duplex apartment on the twentieth floor of the San Remo, overlooking Central Park, and solve crimes as they go about their elegant lives, hanging out in swank restaurants among high-rolling dudes and chantoozies, knowing who is real and who is from New Jersey. The neighbors across the hall, Elena and Malcolm Strathspey, a Scottish laird and his ballerina wife, come over for gimlets and to talk about ballet, opera, the O’Connell sculptures at the Guggenheim. For a boy whose dad ran the grain elevator in a small town where nobody had ever seen a ballet or knew a gimlet from a grommet, the Flambeaus were an inspiration. They were my secret family. Nobody else took out the Flambeau books, especially after I reshelved them under Foreign Language”.
The further I read through Saturday, the more that the Flambeau family came to mind; when the novel reached its dramatic denouement and the hero overcomes and then saves the life of the villain, I thought, “Well, what else would he do?” The ending seemed as inevitable as tragedy at the end of an Irish ballad.
Maybe reality and absurdity are simply matters of individual perspective, maybe brain surgeons and Oxford educated poets fill the real world of McEwan in the way that Minnesotan farmers fill the world of Keillor. Maybe my reality would be as comic to McEwan as his is to me.