July will be difficult to miss because I hardly realized she was here before she was gone. July invokes the strongest visions of summer, perfectly positioned within the season, so its sudden passing leaves me a bit startled though not disappointed. July is for those who wait impatiently for summer, who prefer when the sun is high in the sky, and though I am appreciative, I am not overly enthusiastic. I grow weary when the sun refuses to stop shining, when it creates pressure to be happy, as in, it’s so bright outside, why feel otherwise? In regards to emotions I support equal opportunity, so a mix of sunshine and clouds serves me well.
The Fourth of July was spent in Los Angeles, a city that taps into parts of us that we wish to ignore (see Dry by Augusten Burroughs). My favorite memory from the holiday is picking up vegan chicken pizza at 10pm with amateur fireworks exploding in all directions. I spent time in San Diego the following weekend, and ever since I have settled myself at home in the Bay Area, celebrating summer in the small ways like listening to Leon Bridges’ Coming Home nonstop, and taking road trips north to Napa and south to Santa Cruz.
A thought that I carry into August is that comfort is one of the biggest obstacles to change; comfort keeps us still. I have yet to discover what exactly I will do with this piece of information, so cheers to August.
“I can see the spot where my father placed me the day he shot the picture for the code-o-graph, wanting nothing but the wide, blue sky behind me. Wanting me to look as if I could be anywhere. The Texas plains. The Canadian wilderness. The far horizon of Death Valley. Places I have never gone.”
A Master Plan for Rescue, p. 319
By Janis Cooke Newman
Published 2015 by Riverhead
Regardless of what book I am reading, I always find the perfect place to pause, an invisible intermission, that has nothing to do with page numbers or chapters. I sense a pending shift in the book, so I pause to reflect, to prime my mind for what comes next. To refresh my memory, I flip back to random pages and re-read from wherever my eyes land, a few paragraphs, maybe a few pages, and will do this several times.
Janis Cooke Newman’s A Master Plan for Rescue (Riverhead, 2015) is unique in that I did not reach that pause for a very long time. In fact, I’m almost finished with the book. It is divided into two parts that ultimately intertwine, and though the story unfolds slowly, it is good enough to want to push forward, to feel eager for more information. The first part follows Jack, a twelve-year-old boy in Manhattan who loses his beloved father to a freak accident as WWII ramps up. The second follows Jakob, a Jewish mechanic in Berlin who falls in love as his life descends into the hell that is Nazi Germany.
A Master Plan for Rescue suggests that when faced with untold difficulty, people resort to magical thinking, as if our minds try to shield us from pain that we cannot handle. Jack, faced with the death of his father, continues to communicate with him via code-o-graph and tells himself that he left to hunt down Nazi spies. Jack’s mother, faced with the death of her husband, joins the “Desperate Catholics” who rush to the front row of church and look to the ceiling as they loudly repeat scripture. Jakob’s love, Rebecca, has a weak heart and knows that if the Nazis do not kill her, her heart will. She becomes fixated with escaping to Paris and desperately begins every conversation with, “When I go to Paris…” The pace quickens when the two stories merge in New York City, and I’m eager to discover whether the magical thinking can sustain itself. I always enjoy historical fiction more than I think I do, and A Master Plan for Rescue is making me consider that all over again.
I see this cartoon and smile because I understand far too well, then quickly drop the smile for the same reason. ‘Tis the season. Since the start of summer, my most productive reading sessions have taken place in libraries, cars, and airplanes, not the most obvious summertime hangout spots. I generally feel immense pressure to be outdoors when the sun is out, so reading in my room loses its appeal. Reading at the park or the beach sounds wonderful, but as soon as I open my book, the sun’s harsh rays land on the page and explosions of light follow. I position my head in an attempt to cast the perfect shadow. I eavesdrop on conversations. I apply sunscreen. My eyes trail off the page and settle on the blue above, thinking nothing and sometimes everything. Publishers constantly recommend various versions of the best beach reads, and I wonder if these books are intended for distraction, to accommodate spotty reception. There is one reading spot that has emerged as the season’s favorite. I wait for the sun to drop from its highest point, drive less than a mile, and park alongside the marina. I then push my chair back, roll down all of the windows, and as the bay breeze slips into the hot car, I settle in to read until sunset. If we find ourselves lured away from books by the sirens of summer, let us not fret. I imagine many of my favorite authors and their characters would encourage such behavior, as they would do the same, and I would enjoy reading about it.
“It was the first time in my life that I had been aware of my own existence. It was the first time in my life I had realized that I was alive. And if I was alive, then I could die, and I mean forever. Forever dead. Not heaven, not eternal life on some other plane…just darkness, curtain, scene. Permanently. And that was the key to my new religion, I figured. That’s why life was so fucking great. I want that day back. I want to be nine again and be told, Nomi: someday you’ll be gone, you’ll be dust, and then even less than dust. Nothing. There’s no other place to be. This world is good enough for you because it has to be. Go ahead and love it.”
A Complicated Kindness, p. 209
By Miriam Toews