I thought of Grandpa John parachuting into enemy territory from the fireball of his burning plane. And then all the time in France and then in hospital, not knowing if he was even going to live, not knowing if he would see my grandmother again. Philip said that if he hadn’t survived, I wouldn’t have been born.
I went to sleep thinking about it. I wondered who would live in our house now if I hadn’t been born? I wondered who would have my seat on the bus every day into the city, who would sit next to Philip in his truck on long drives?
One day Philip and I will be old—and this flight home to New York will be a silent flickering, something half imagined. Grandpa John will have been dead for many years.
After Philip and I die, there will be no one left to remember Grandpa John and then no one left to remember us. None of this will have happened, except that it’s happening right now.
There will be no Amelia, yet here I am.
I wonder how our bodies will change as we get old. I wonder how we’ll feel about things that haven’t happened to us yet.
When we get back to our cottage in Sag Harbor, I’m going to invite all our friends to a summer party, and I’m going to laugh, and put my arms around them. And then I’m going to lead Philip up to bed by the hand, finding the candles by heat, and blowing them out one by one as we, one day, will be vanquished with a last puff and then nothing at all—nothing but the fragrance of our lives in the world, as on a hand that once held flowers.
—Simon Van Booy, The Illusion of Separateness
This book came along at just the right time. I needed encouragement to believe good things can come along again, that a few sweet sprinklings can overcome vast bitterness. The people I’ve crossed paths with have added to my story in sometimes hurtful ways, but I can choose to focus on the bright spots and let the rest fade.
In prose often spare but never stark, Van Booy handles the lives of his characters with kid gloves, gently teasing out their interconnectedness with simultaneous respect for their strengths and nonjudgmental acceptance of their faults.
His evenhanded treatment reminds us that life is to be cherished. Yes, there is war and loss and sadness in the world. But these characters demonstrate how to live through troubling moments with dignity and gratitude. They understand that we are all part of a larger, more beautiful story. They inspire a reverence for the tangles that catch us all up together in the web of life.
Van Booy lulls you into a state of zen, preparing your unwitting mind for the pleasant surprises that sparkle like precious jewels nestled into deceptively simple settings. His innovative use of the language and creative word choices pull you along in anticipation of uncovering more buried treasures in the chapter to come.
The fragrance of this quiet book may linger in your hand for a long, long time. I’d recommend it to anyone in a contemplative mood, or to those who need a little reassurance that the story of life is worthwhile, and that your being in it is part of what makes it so.