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.
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.