The Book Meme: Day 20

Day 20 - Favorite kiss

I am not a reader of romances, generally speaking, so I don't think of kisses as necessarily important moments in a narrative. That's not to say they can't be, but in general, I remember that two characters formed a relationship, not necessarily that it was launched by a kiss. In some ways, I think this question may, for me, deal more with the moments of tenderness and communion that are shared between characters, or at least that's how I'm going to interpret it, because that kind of moment, when it's truly memorable, is often decidedly unromantic.

One such moment came in a short story I really should have mentioned in Day 17's post. A lot of these posts tend to wallow in nostalgia, so things I read in my youth often drive out things I've come across more recently, even when those new works are more deserving. Forgive me, then, for failing to mention Joe Hill's brilliant "Pop Art," which is, as far as I'm concerned, the best short story of the 21st century. Originally published in 2001 (and available in Hill's 2005 collection 20th Century Ghosts), it's the story of two boys, one with a home life filled with neglect and cruelty (the nameless narrator) and one with an improbable medical condition: he's inflatable. The inflatable boy, Art Roth, is basically a living blow-up doll, with plastic skin and no voice (he communicates exclusively by writing with a grease pencil--no sharp objects allowed). This patently absurd situation should not work at all, but Hill manages to sell it and sell it completely. As ridiculous as the premise is, the story is sorrowful, inspiring, and real. It's the best kind of fantasy, one that shows a perfect reflection of the world, but it seems deeper and more magical because it's a reversal of that world. And yes, it contains a moment of true communion, where the two friends are locked in an embrace. I won't tell you why, but I will tell you that when you read the story for yourself, you'll understand why I still remember that embrace years after first seeing it.

I can point to another non-kiss example of tenderness in a book I mentioned earlier in this exercise: Jim Crace's remarkable Being Dead. This is a book about a pair of murder victims, Joseph and Celice, and the narrative's two threads take us both forward in time (as their bodies lie in the dunes where they were slain) and backward in time (to show us the lives that brought them to this beach). It is an unflinching look at death, and it does not pretend to say anything about any afterlife. At times its honesty can feel almost like cruelty, yet there is something lovely and human about one moment: the dying Joseph, seeing his wife lying in the sand near him, not knowing if she still lives, reaches out to her and lays his hand on her ankle. And there it stays:

The corpses were surrendered to the weather and the earth, but here were still a man and wife, quietly resting; flesh on flesh; dead, but not departed yet.

It was as if they had been struck by lightning but the thunder, separated from its faster twin, had yet to come with its complaints to shake and terminate the bodies lying in the grass. Time was divided into light and sound. There was a sanctuary for Joseph and Celice between the lightning and the thunderclap. Such were their six days in the dunes, stretched out, these two unlucky lovers on the coast.

This is our only prayer: May no one come to lift his hand from her leg. Let thunder never find its voice. Hold sound and light, those battling twins, apart. There is a meadow that separates death's chilly gate and the tumbling nothingness beyond, in which our Joseph and Celice are lying, cushioned by the sunlight and the grass, and held in place by nothing firmer than his fingertip.

A beautiful passage, to be sure. And a depiction of love as well. But no, not romantic. And not a kiss. 

There is one literary kiss I remember above them all, however, and it is if anything from a scene even less romantic than Crace's. It comes from the end of one of my all-time favorite books, and I still remember the first time I read it, eyes tearing up all the while, one afternoon in about 1975. My brother was somewhere else, and for some reason I was lying on his bed to finish the long task of reading The Lord of the Rings. And there, in his room, with the royal blue walls and a window on the woody banks of Battle Creek, I turned to the last pages of The Return of the King and came to Gandalf's last speech, there at the Grey Havens:

"...Well, here at last, dear friends, on the shores of the Sea comes the end of our fellowship in Middle-earth. Go in peace! I will not say: do not weep; for not all tears are an evil."

Then Frodo kissed Merry and Pippin, and last of all Sam, and went aboard; and the sails were drawn up, and the wind blew, and slowly the ship slipped away down the long grey firth; and the light of the glass of Galadriel that Frodo bore glimmered and was lost.

I am a firm believer in romantic kisses, and I have participated in more than a few in my day. But somehow the romantic kisses I've read about never quite live up to the real thing, nor do they pack as much meaning as the moments included here. Some might argue that this makes me unromantic. I prefer to think of myself as a connoisseur of kisses.

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This page contains a single entry by Peter Cashwell published on July 26, 2018 10:27 AM.

The Book Meme: Day 19 was the previous entry in this blog.

The Book Meme: Day 21 is the next entry in this blog.

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