The Empty House: On ‘Here’ and ‘The Case Against Satan’
By Adam Boretz
I was hoping Ryan Joe would deliver the goods in his response to Richard McGuire’s Here — and his post did just that. For me, this was actually a second reading of Here. The first time around — months ago, when I got my hands on a galley — I really liked the book for all the reasons people should (and do) like the book: the spare art; the innovative storytelling; that sense of all we are missing in a single life, which Rob ably pointed out in his post.
My second reading was a very different one due to the death of grandmother. In the months since her passing — which came two years after the death of her husband — our family has done the things that I suppose all families must do. The most recent of which was preparing her home of 60 years for sale. My grandmother’s house was (due to a variety of reasons we won’t get into here) very much my childhood home — the place I grew up; the setting of almost all of my fond early memories; one of my very favorite places.
Thankfully, I have been entirely removed from the process of donating clothes and cookware, selling furniture and valuables, hauling out the detritus of a family’s life. But, I am told by my parents that — save a distant 20-something cousin who is now “tending to the house” by sleeping on a mattress on the floor and “not cleaning the bathroom very well” — my grandmother’s home is now empty: all the possessions and photos and furniture accumulated over six decades have been removed.
It was with this in mind that I read Here — and by read, I mean skimmed a few pages and then sort of stared into space and zoned out and thought about my grandparent’s house: the currently empty rooms, the way the house was arranged, the way it changed over the years — and, of course, the flashes of memory I have in each and every corner of the house and yard.
And as I turned the pages of Here, these memories — ordinary, commonplace, wonderful memories — played out again and again: sleeping over — and clutching a stuffed monkey — on the night my sister was born; tossing rocks at the neighbor’s windows until they shattered and my cousin and I fled into the woods; playing cribbage and eating peanuts with my grandfather at the kitchen table; exploring the secret passage that connected two of the upstairs bedrooms; reading stacks of Tintins in the freezing cold bedrooms; breaking various antiques of various values and fleeing into the woods; that time my Uncle Harry broke an ashtray over the head of one of his nephews; that time a car exploded to flames in front of the house; that time an passing freezer truck dropped cartons of ice cream onto the road and my grandfather salvaged them and we had chocolate and coffee and rum raisin for dessert; that time I found a soggy Hustler in the stream by the neighboring bar; that time the soggy Hustler from the stream by the neighboring bar was confiscated by grandmother; every Christmas for nearly four decades; my grandfather dying of Alzheimer’s in the sitting room; my grandmother dying of a brain tumor in the front room; hundreds of dinners and reunions and adventures and quiet afternoons and and on and on and on.
And then I turned a few more pages of Here and thought about the house: the millions of moments I wasn’t there for, the millions of moments before I was born, and the millions of moments yet to come.
Although I’m somewhat hesitant to draw direct links between football and the books we read for FBC, I have to say that Ray Russell’s The Case Against Satan is pretty much the literary equivalent of the 2015 Chicago Bears.
Initially, I was kind of concerned — based on Ryan’s post — that The Case Against Satan was going to be pretty awful — which, of course, is how I felt about yet another season with Jay Cutler at the helm in Chicago.
And while Ryan makes a lot of good points about the book’s issues, I thought The Case Against Satan had its moments. Which could also be said of the 2015 Chicago Bears: they’ve been disappointing, vaguely entertaining, and less of of a trainwreck than last year.
Are the Bears still pretty awful? Has Jay Cutler performed better than anticipated? Were some of the exorcism scenes in The Case Against Satan pretty creepy? Was that scene when we found out the young girl clawed the priest in the neck shocking? Yes. Yes, on all counts.