” In his other life, the simplest details had stumped him. He could not imagine how he might shop, work, do his banking, unconsciously, as others did. He did not know how to free himself from what he had become. ” (III 3:281)
Force of Gravity is nothing like Walking on Air, the psychological study of a man with terminal illness who fears his two closest friends would abandon him. Both novels are character-driven, but Force of Gravity, the debut of late R.S. Jones, takes readers into the mind of a clearly crazy person, Emmet Barfield—and stuck right there. He never gains a greater understanding of his world, which he finds surreal, oppressive, and claustrophobic.
From the time he was a child, Emmet had sensed an oddness about himself that made strangers wary. (I 9:77)
Paranoid, OCD, and yet reasonable and meticulous, he is strange from the beginning. He does grocery shopping at night when the market is slow to avoid prying eyes of others. He has the compulsion to document every happening in the city and position with thumb-tacks on the map. He knows all violation codes by heart. He records phone conversations. He adopts a cat from the shelter to keep his dog’s company. After a break-in at his dilapidated apartment, he diverts mails to an address in Casper, Wyoming to dodge letters from his landlord demanding. To bill collector he informs that Emmet has died in the robbery.
He was afraid to bring him to his room. Emmet was ashamed to be tainted by the delusions of the others, as if even in the hosiptal ward, he might keep his brother from believing he was mad. (II 9:240)
Emmet is going crazy—without his knowing, but Force of Gravity is less about what it means to be sane than about what it means to be human. He who thinks with shame and horror about everything is both so out of touch with the world and is keeping in pace with it. He is ultra sensitive to the most trivial details. Sanity is after all relative and there exists a subtle difference between madness and insanity. Madness is ubiquitous, penetrating even into daily lives and working of the government, wielding power that those in possession of none can only conform. Madness is more outrageous than crazy, because madness is tolerated and becomes something people are inured to, like background drone.
Although the book doesn’t indue my sympathy or gratitude, and certainly doesn’t live up to the satisfaction from Walking on Air, it portrays a reality more real than what we choose to see and believe. Substitute “patients” with “people” and change “ward” to any public venue like “mall” or “the street” (maybe even “zoo”?) and that would be the reality for most of us. Does that reality make us more sane? Maybe insanity is when one spirals further and further away from ordinary reality, the “majority” reality to some extraordinary reality that hardly anyone can relate to.
320 pp. Perennial softcover. [
Read/Skim/ Toss] [ Buy/Borrow]