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The Universal Story

In his book Miracles, C. S. Lewis discusses the ubiquity of a certain story, cropping up among the pages of history, in every location, in every religion. His view is that the story we keep telling is itself the Story of Christ.

All of history expected the Grand Miracle, and all of history since has echoed it. The story is that of descent and reascent. God descends to earth, descends into human form, descends into death, descends into Hell. He then reascends to Earth, to life, to human form, and to heaven. Lewis says, “In this descent and reascent everyone will recognise a familiar pattern: a thing written all over the world…Through this bottleneck, this belittlement, the highroad nearly always lies.” (Miracles 180).

Lewis continues to argue that this pattern is in nature, and “also in our emotional and moral life” because it is a reflection of God.

When I experience Story, I gladly delve into the universal elements of what each instance of Story has to offer. Lewis would say it is because God is universal—and I likely to say so as well—but others would say it is because Story itself is universal and the Christian Story is yet another instance of that, impartial to the existence or non-existence of a God. Both conclusions, however, are still shrouded in mystery.

So I proceed to experience Story and wonder at its universalness. From my subjective viewpoint, the default Story is that which Lewis claims, and that is the story to which I return again and again, no matter what tale I’ve set my sights upon.


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Where Things Come Back

John Corey Whaley wrote a book that is called Where Things Come Back and you should read it. You should read it because it will make you feel things (go and hide when the psychic starts digging), and you should read it because you will learn a hell of a lot about love (how to beat up an ornithologist), and you should read it because it is a ridiculously beautiful story (like the story of Lazarus, who was a zombie).

It’s a story about Cullen Witter. Cullen Witter’s just this guy, you know? His cousin Oslo ODs and his aunt pretty much just cries all the time. His little younger brother Gabriel wears a lot of band t-shirts. And there’s this one girl, and Cullen wants her so bad. But she doesn’t want him, and some weird bird guy has moved in next door, and the entire summer is shaping up to be boring, but in a weirder way that it usually is. Then Gabriel goes missing.

When one is reading a story in which boys go missing and in which zombies feature prominently, she wonders how she’s ever managed to make it through life without seeing zombies climbing from every grave. She begins to think that all of the void in life may just be waiting to be undead, and not really a void at all, but a receptacle for hope. She forgets about the music playing in the background, forgets about her glass of wine, her foot that fell asleep and the fact that she must go to work in the morning somewhere in a building in a whole other universe from where she is. She might even try really hard not to cry.

Who is the book for? The living and undead alike. Read it now. It will not eat your brains, but it will feed your heart. (Aww).

Sufjan Stevens fans will get a serious kick out of this book.

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Call Me By Your Name

by André Aciman

I could not put this book down. I started it after work one evening and finished late that night. It cast a spell of tension, longing, desire—all of which were left unresolved for so many pages, with hints every now and then to spur the reader on.

There was a lot of restraint in the telling: a seventeen year old boy falling in love for the first time could have been, well, Twilight without the vampires. But this story was far from an emotional indulgence squeezed generously from a tube of saccharine icing.  Most of the telling is in the frustration and uncertainty of the the young boy: is he mad? does he really want the thing he believes he desires? Is there reciprocation? How can he break the ice with this aloof object of his affection?

There were many ways, however, in which the book was indulgent. Our hero is hyper intellectual, a piano virtuoso. His love interest is likewise intelligent, a grad student working fervently on a thesis about Heraclitus. The uncanniness of the  ready excuse for allusion and heady talk was easy to overlook with a view of enjoying the story, but it often felt as if these devices sufficed to say “their desire for each other is not your typical summer romance.” In fact, their desire was as animal and desperate as other romances, even those including seventeen-year-olds.

If you’re looking for a short, light easy read, full of passion and reservation, this one fits the bill.


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Pnin Panics

I am inappropriately and absurdly in love with Vladimir Nabokov. I want to scrape his words from the page and eat them for three square meals. I want to live on their bread alone. It couldn’t be too hard to scrape them up; he writes such vivid prose his words seem corporeal and textured.

With the scalpel edge of his exacting words he delves into open heart surgery on poor Professor Pnin. But he does not find the things the surgeons find, rather Nabokov’s instruments discover the revenants of the human interior: hope, anxiety, wonder. And his findings are carefully listed in the pages of his novel.

Beneath the cracked sternum, somewhere near the galloping heart, Nabokov finds in perfect form the terrible tremors and visions of human anxiety. It is a small metaphysical organ reaching its claws toward the chambers of blood, which it now and then squeezes, causing panic and dizziness. It is a memento mori.

Pnin’s panic attack ensues:

“The wave of hopeless fatigue that suddenly submerged his topheavy body, detaching him, as it were, from reality, was a sensation not utterly unknown to him….Was it a mysterious disease that none of his doctors had yet detected?…He felt porous and pregnable. He was sweating. He was terrified….He pressed his poor bald head against the stone back of the bench and recalled all the past occasions of similar discomfort and despair….It all happened in a flash but there is no way of rendering it in less than so many consecutive words.”