The Book of Daniel by E.L. Doctorow
“The theory is that the person wants to go home.”
E.L. Doctorow, I found a copy of The Book of Daniel at the Oakland Public Library. Your narrator, the impetuous Daniel, hasn’t left my head for days. He’s here now, plucking the flourished language out of this settlement I’ve made with your book. Delete that sentence there, don’t call me disarming or unreliable. Reliability is for your mother, your friends, not your narrator or government.
Daniel and his brash, empathetic sister Susan, lost their parents at the hands of careless bureaucrats. Their mourning sickness has lasted long into the night. The second, third, fourth acts of tragedy bleed together, as I follow Daniel through the labyrinth of conflicting memories and truth. Oh, Daniel, did your parents hold the secrets to the atom bomb? Your father collected insects in prison and wanted you to hear the glorious speeches. It took two rounds of electricity to kill your mother only for Susan’s revolutionary peers to dismiss them as cowards over a joint on a balmy summer night.
Interwoven in your story is absence, wounds from loss, the prolonged and instantaneous effects of suffering. But, hell, even dogs experience PTSD, so why won’t you hold anything gently? Put an end to the masturbatory eschatological thesis you've grown so fond of and ask yourself why you are betrothed with violence. I nearly threw the book out the window when you recalled what you did to your wife in the car ride back from the hospital. And I would’ve, if I could only afford the library fine.
Somehow, I’ve grown close to Daniel, and old friends, like habits, die hard. I hold his boyish nature in my palms, comfort the loss of his parents, his sister’s naive bravado, the well-meaning foster parents who never got it right. I trim his hair carefully, I don’t want to be the sacrificial Delilah to his Samson. Every time he measures women, talks about sex in the callous, calculated way radical men often do—I slap his hands away, throw his hair in the sink, and light it on fire. We dance to the music my father loves, screaming, “If I had my way, I would tear this old building down!”
Should I tell you that this book caused a paradigm shift? No, it’s too sentimental, and can be rendered meaningless.
My sympathies were challenged, Doctorow. Daniel, I rejected you but you climbed in anyway. To the reader, I chose this story to review, not understanding the weight it would hold. I sat alone on the platform of MacArthur BARt, the fog encroaching as my eyes quickly trailed the final pages, awaiting resolution, absolution, revolution.
IS IT SO TERRIBLE NOT TO KEEP THE MATTER IN MY HEART, TO GET THE MATTER OUT OF MY HEART, TO EMPTY MY HEART OF THIS MATTER? WHAT IS THE MATTER WITH MY HEART?
I press my palm right against Daniel’s heart, to make sure it’s still beating. We are caught in the familiar liminal web of grief. It’s a state of bewilderment, when you’re left wondering if the qualities you possess are innate, or simply a reaction to cyclical traumas. Acceptance is not necessary for healing, but acknowledgement is. Daniel, I know we can both do better. Let’s begin gleaning through the wreckage for what will help, and abandon what will cause us pain. After all, the fog has only just begun to roll over the hills.–Ali Giordani