"What is the field though? It sounds like Bloomingdale’s on a Saturday."

I just finished Disturbances in the Field by Lynne Sharon Schwartz. Part of the year of reading an impossibly high number of books to somehow feel more learn-ed; however, this book should be given time to absorb. It is a little capsule dunked in brain-water that you should leave alone for some minutes. When you come back, the capsule's outer covering has dissolved and the previously tiny, spongy innards have turned into a fully fleshed sponge-being. None of that makes sense. The book (not the poorly conceived metaphor) is about Lydia, a Barnard-educated pianist, and her friends, her life, their lives, and I guess, life. There is quite a bit of philosophy in the book, moslty puzzled out cross-legged on dorm-room floors. College starts in the late 50s, then there is marriage, career misplacement, infidelity, general confusion, death. You know, all the good ones. Life continues, in Manhattan, until the early 80s. Lydia's friend Gaby, a tall ex-dancer, opines on life and narratives after she has just given birth:

"...A novel, the sort of novel one could imagine one's life to be, at any rate, appears to meander, with a ragbag of concerns. Also...a novel has commentary; no matter how absent an author tries to be, it contains its own interpretation. A novel is an attempt at interpretation. Your life can't be. That's why the tendency is dangerous. You try to direct your life along the route of beginning, middle, and end, but actually life has a sprinkling of beginnings and middles and ends all the way through, not in the right order....You try to see a cluster of major themes moving along, developing and elaborating, but actually in many lives the original themes die out or become sublimated...new ones arise out of nowhere....Plus we never escape time, and real time is so dull and even, like a fox-trot. A novelist can treat it whimsically, make it fly back and forth or stand still. We never escape flukes, politics, weather. A novelist makes her own flukes when she needs them, and her own weather. It's a matter of control," she says wistfully.

And Schwartz does control, from the first page, when Lydia's old friend and ex-lover, George, explains "Field theory" to Lydia's delight--the idea that happenstance will always prevent the meeting of needs between people, families. Throughout, love and life are subject to these "disturbances," the telephone ringing before a mother can comfort a crying child, or a bus careening off the road only to turn its precious cargo into so many cinders. Why do we choose who we choose, or what we choose? This novel is the exception to Gaby's rule about novelists; Schwartz succeeds in making the story as much like life as one can--with attendent tragedy and charm; the result is not a beach read. Unless you don't mind sunbathers staring as you cry into the pages.

-Ali Salerno

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