Cicadas, Spoiler Alerts, and Whad’Ya Know?

The cicadas have returned to Nashville after their 13-year dor­mancy. They appear first as small holes, a lit­tle big­ger than a golf tee makes, around the perime­ter of houses, at the trunks of trees, along brick walkways—everywhere. Next, in what is a kind of lar­val stage, they climb to high places—fences or walls—where they anchor them­selves and meta­mor­phose, burst­ing from these exoskele­tons which remain behind, intact and brit­tle pods as neatly split down the backs as lob­ster tails. What hatches are the fly­ing, red-eyed bugs you may have heard about on the news. My kids freakin’ love them. My wife is ter­ri­fied. The birds, I imag­ine, are stuffed. 

They’re not in full force yet, not a full-on locust, but they should be by the end of the week, and then their num­bers become Bib­li­cal. (Dur­ing their last inva­sion, I remem­ber mow­ing my lawn and each line I cut sent waves of them sky­ward ahead of the machine’s nose, leav­ing behind a black wake of gore. Within min­utes, my legs were bar­na­cled with them, a liv­ing pair of knee socks, beard­ing my calves, black and glis­ten­ing and shaped like mol­lusks.) In the morn­ings, I see them buzzing over the lawn in squadrons. They’re not good fly­ers, mov­ing through the air with the same heav­i­ness of B-52 bombers, slow and loud, their rear-portions dip­ping below their wings like boat rud­ders or Boba Fett’s Fire Spray fighter, so that they always seem to be strug­gling to remain in flight, and when you see them in these large for­ma­tions they put you in the mind of bub­bles, because they dip and rise gen­tly and errat­i­cally and seem less borne by their wings than the breeze. When one of them does land—on a leaf say—it’s more of a crash. You hear a slap, there’s a dis­cernible clutch of the wings, as if they were pre­hen­sile, and the pad sags with the impact.

Is a flood next? A famine?

To Mr. Peanut news: I’m intro­duc­ing Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Win­dow with a brief digres­sion on its influ­ence on the novel this Sat­ur­day evening, May 14th, at Guild Hall in East Hamp­ton, NY.

Tick­ets are free; the show gets rolling at 8:00 p.m. It’s part of the May­hem Mys­tery Writ­ers Fes­ti­val and is worth check­ing out if you’re on Long Island’s East End.

Also, I caught this ter­rific write-up about Mr. Peanut on Twit­ter. It’s by Daniel Roberts (@readdanwrite), who writes for For­tune mag­a­zine and whose out­put is hum­bling (the guy seems to read and write about every­thing). The discussion/review does a great job of address­ing two of the main cri­tiques of the novel. First that the end­ing is dif­fi­cult to puz­zle out (it isn’t, he argues); sec­ond, that the book is misog­y­nis­tic (again, it isn’t, he affirms). As well, it links with Scott Turow’s review in The New York Times Book Review as well as my response to Slate’s Dou­ble X book club pod­cast.

Roberts does a ter­rific job of decod­ing the novel’s end­ing. Here’s a part of his post to which I’ll make a clar­i­fi­ca­tion. Roberts writes:

How­ever, what was dif­fi­cult, look­ing back on it: know­ing which moments were from David’s book and which really hap­pened. Every­thing involv­ing the detec­tives is from David’s book, of course. But as for the inter­ac­tions between David and Alice, I’m not as sure about which was what. When I try to recall the read­ing expe­ri­ence, I can pick out a num­ber of episodes between them (his hec­tic appear­ance at her school to demand that she go on a trip with him; the hike they go on when they fight and are sep­a­rated; their stay in Hawaii after her in-flight mis­car­riage) and have trou­ble decid­ing for sure what was real (did David have an affair or not?) and what was cre­ated by David. This, of course, is Ross’ clever way of almost ensur­ing you’ll read the book again (I haven’t yet, but even­tu­ally might) and also explains why Scott Smith com­mented: “You can’t quite believe that its many pieces fit together so snugly.” (Indeed, they do, but that’s what I’m saying—they fit together so snugly that it’s dif­fi­cult to dis­tin­guish, which is nei­ther good nor bad, nec­es­sar­ily.) That being said, I don’t quite under­stand how Scott Turow, in his bub­bly review of the book, arrives at the con­clu­sion that the novel “con­cludes with three (or is it four?) alter­nate end­ings.” There are two—the end­ing from David’s book and the ‘real’ ending—unless Turow is also includ­ing the con­clu­sion of the Has­troll and Shep­pard sto­ries as end­ings as well.

He’s so close to get­ting it and is to be com­mended. On tour, I’ve met only one per­son who cor­rectly decoded the novel’s end­ing on the first read­ing. I’ll give a few hints.

1. The reader read­ing the novel is wit­ness to the writ­ing of a novel which becomes some­thing else upon its completion.

2. The effect Roberts describes above (How­ever, what was dif­fi­cult, look­ing back on it: know­ing which moments were from David’s book and which really hap­pened) is inten­tional and Escher-like. His images are dynamic; the eye con­stantly read­justs per­spec­tive. But it’s not just David’s book (see 3 below):

3. The two keys to under­stand­ing what hap­pens at the novel’s end are, first, Escher’s “Encounter,” the image which appears on the title page. Sec­ond, this pas­sage [ital­ics mine]:

Alone now, Pepin wrote:

There are two of us, of course, David and Pepin, inter­locked and sep­a­rate and one and the same. I’m writ­ing my bet­ter self and he’s writ­ing his worse and vice versa and so on until the end” (433 Vin­tage paperback).

Any more hints and I’d be giv­ing away the rabbit.

Last but not least, I appeared on Michael Feldman’s Whad’Ya Know? this past Sat­ur­day, May 7th, dur­ing his visit to Nashville. I’m an enor­mous fan of Feld­man and the show, so it was a true thrill. Down­load the 5/8 pod­cast and give a lis­ten. I appear dur­ing the sec­ond hour.