As you have been on the road, what have you been hearing from readers about A RELIABLE WIFE?RG: The most interesting question came from a young man in his 30s who asked me to discuss the relationship between love and aging. We think when we’re young that, as we get older, our passions and enthusiasms will fade, will lose their hold on us, and we will enter into some more gentle phase. I don’t find it to be true. Our passions, in fact, intensify, like a sauce that has been reduced to its essence by long slow simmering over a low flame.
For every question, there is a book.
The thing is, all memory is fiction. You have to remember that. Of course, there are things that actually, certifiably happened, things you can pinpoint the day, the hour, the minute. When you think about it, though, those things, mostly seem to happen to other people. This story actually happened, and it happened pretty much the way I am going to tell it to you. It's a true story as much as six decades or telling and remembering can allow it to be true. Time changes things, and you don't always get everything right. You remember a little thing clear as a bell, the weather, say, or the splash of light on the river's ripples as the sun was going down into the black pines. things not even connected to anything in particular, while other things, big things even, come completely disconnected and no longer have any shape or sound. The little things seem more real than the big things.
I wasn't safe. I wasn't permanent. My life was a fiction I had created, like an alien who comes to earth and tries to pass as human. The affections of my friends meant nothing to me, directed, as they were, toward a person who wasn't there. There was nobody home.
The rest is just slow diminution and loss. A waning of the full and effulgent moon of my youth. Not that the bright light of my youth was anything to be proud of. I was a terrible person. I did unkind and sometimes illegal things. I treated women abominably. The remembrance of it causes me to flush with shame and to feel a tightening in my groin.It was a radiance without warmth, and I thought of nothing but myself in the brightness of the light. Now I try never to think of myself. I try not to think at all, not to dwell, but, sometimes, late at night, it all comes back to me, and I lose myself in the life that might have been, the wife of twenty years, her comforts and distractions. The fractious children, raucous at the holidays, with their tattoos you asked them not to get and their lacrosse sticks they play with in the house, stringing and restringing them, the trips to Paris to stay at the Lutetia. Photograph albums of a life that never quite came to be. It doesn’t last long when it comes, but it is vivid, and I am there, not here, not here where I belong. When you lose everything, you don’t die. You just continue in ordinary pants with nothing in your pockets.
Sometimes she sat and let her mind go blank and her eyes go out of focus, so that she watched the slow, jerky movements of the motes that floated across her pupils. They amazed her as a child. Now she saw them as a reflection of how she moved, floating listlessly through the world, occasionally bumping into another body without acknowledgment, and then floating on, free and alone.
Learning became her. She loved the smell of the book from the shelves, the type on the pages, the sense that the world was an infinite but knowable place. Every fact she learned seemed to open another question, and for every question there was another book.