Arms akimbo in the land of lotus eaters

April 16, 2011

in therapy in session,this i believe

This paragraph from A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan, which won the 2010 National Book Critics Circle Award (ETA: AND the 2011 Pulitzer Prize!) for fiction, is one of the most hauntingly vivid descriptions of a marriage that I have ever read. At the same time the description sounds clinical, meticulous, it strikes me as one of the saddest things I have ever read.


Yet each disappointment Ted felt in his wife, each incremental deflation, was accompanied by a seizure of guilt; many years ago, he had taken the passion he felt for Susan and folded it in half, so he no longer had a drowning, helpless feeling when he glimpsed her beside him in bed: her ropy arms and soft, generous ass. Then he’d folded it in half again, so when he felt desire for Susan, it no longer brought with it an edgy terror of never being satisfied. Then in half again, so that feeling desire entailed no immediate need to act. Then in half again, so he hardly felt it. His desire was so small in the end that Ted could slip it inside his desk or a pocket and forget about it, and this gave him a feeling of safety and accomplishment, of having dismantled a perilous apparatus that might have crushed them both. Susan was baffled at first, then distraught; she’d hit him twice across the face; she’d run from the house in a thunderstorm and slept at a motel; she’d wrestled Ted to the bedroom floor in a pair of black crotchless underpants. But eventually a sort of amnesia had overtaken Susan; her rebellion and hurt had melted away, deliquesced into a sweet, eternal sunniness that was terrible in the way that life would be terrible, Ted supposed, without death to give it gravitas and shape. He’d presumed at first that her relentless cheer was mocking, another phase in her rebellion, until it came to him that Susan had forgotten how things were between them before Ted began to fold up his desire; she’d forgotten and was happy — had never not been happy — and while all of this bolstered his awe at the gymnastic adaptability of the human mind, it also made him feel that his wife had been brainwashed. By him.


I read this book over the winter holidays and till this day, I am still haunted by this passage. From time to time I would take this book off from the bookshelf, flip to this page and read this passage again, word by word, while caressing the rough edge on the side of the book as if it were an adequate substitute for human warmth.

Of course, per usual, I identify with the wrong character. I want to jump in and rescue Susan.

Wake up, Susan. Wake up. Remember what it was like. Remember what you were like. I want to give her a blog.

Here’s to being decidedly alive even if at the risk of being miserable. Here’s to kicking and screaming. Here’s to never be folded up into a tiny pocket.

Here’s to never forget.


This post is dedicated to a dear friend who is standing arms akimbo in defiance in the land of lotus eaters.

{ 39 comments… read them below or add one }

The Reason You Come April 22, 2011 at 3:48 am

Right after reading your post, before even writing this comment, I bought the book on Kindle. That passage was so heartbreaking! It made me all kinds of sad, but at the same time, it made me want to get my hands on that book.

Beautiful! Thanks for helping me figure out what to read next.
The Reason You Come´s last blog post…Our heaven- your sun- my moon


Absence Alternatives April 22, 2011 at 4:07 am

You are very welcome. Thank you for letting me know. This made me so happy. 🙂 Do let me know when you finish the book what you think of it. I hope though that all the hype around this book does not somehow ruin it for you. Kwim? xxoo


Kristy April 21, 2011 at 9:28 pm

Beautiful post.
Kristy´s last blog post…want yourself No- not touch yourself Pervert


Absence Alternatives April 21, 2011 at 10:14 pm

Thank you!


Justine April 21, 2011 at 11:48 am

“Here’s to being decidedly alive even if at the risk of being miserable. Here’s to kicking and screaming. Here’s to never be folded up into a tiny pocket.”

Amen sister! Amen.

And…blog on. Please.
Justine´s last blog post…Coexisting


Absence Alternatives April 21, 2011 at 10:03 pm

Blog on. I love the sound of that. 🙂


The Good Greatsby April 20, 2011 at 9:44 pm

I actually sent this post to a friend at the exact same time he sent me a text telling me about the new Pulitzers and asking whether I had heard of the winner Goon Squad.
The Good Greatsby´s last blog post…Putting a Hold on Holding Babies- Subtle Schemes to Convince Your Wife to Wait


absence of Alternatives April 20, 2011 at 9:53 pm

Oh dear. I hope I have not ruined the book for youse. please do read the book. The paragraph I quoted is a very minor part of the book about an inconsequential character that only showed up in a short chapter. The book itself is not so depressing, and actually of all the books that I have read about lost youth I actually found the book quite uplifting. I am simply beside myself: I picked one book to read (yes *shame*) for a long while and it won the Pulitzer! Now all of you have to PAY me to read your books when you publish them one day. I am like a rabbit’s foot or something.


magpie April 20, 2011 at 1:18 pm

that is a sad and breathtaking paragraph.
magpie´s last blog post…Instant Dinner


MrsBlogAlot April 20, 2011 at 9:35 am

“the gymnastic adaptability of the human mind….” Oh Lin, and yes, here is to never forget my friend.


Nance April 20, 2011 at 7:15 am

Ah, there you are, my dear!

This passage pains me, too. Makes me wonder if my husband did any folding. Makes me aware that, if he did, I failed utterly at the sunniness part and resorted to sarcastic feints. Makes me have to read the book.

And–hear this now–makes me wish I had an anonymous blog. I’ve been wrestling with this, and, in this post of yours, I read a clarion call. I feel a blog post coming on about a blog post you wrote, about a blog post I wish I could write, and what it is about writing and the writer that shapes the outcome.
Nance´s last blog post…Weathering Denial


Absence Alternatives April 22, 2011 at 4:10 am

Nance, I so wish we could go to a cafe now and just sit down and talk… xxoo


Andrea @ Shameless Agitator April 19, 2011 at 4:44 pm

Very provocative quote from the Good Squad. Makes me examine the relationships in my life…
Andrea @ Shameless Agitator´s last blog post…Faith in a seed


GamerDarling April 19, 2011 at 2:45 pm

I probably sound like a literary dunce but…arms akimbo?
GamerDarling´s last blog post…I’m not always the funny one…


Wildology April 19, 2011 at 9:20 am

So, what about Ted?

The paragraphs gives the impression that he has control over the folding…that he actually actively folds up his passion. What if that is not the case? What if he has no control over the emotional change and is just as frustrated and sad and resigned?

Very moving.
Wildology´s last blog post…How to eat Pickled Pig’s Feet


The Good Greatsby April 18, 2011 at 11:33 pm

This excerpt is so incredibly well written. So many people can relate whether it’s in a marriage or another relationship where somebody hurts us and we keep stepping back to prevent ourselves from getting hurt at the same level.
The Good Greatsby´s last blog post…How to Outflank a Firing- Tips for Preventing Your Impending Dismissal


Jules April 18, 2011 at 7:50 pm

Great post. I heard about this book on NPR today. Must read it now!


Beka April 18, 2011 at 7:13 pm

Boy, oh boy, is that a poignantly written passage. I too identify with Susan, but I have to say I empathize with Ted as well. It is hard in a long marriage not to let those “incremental deflation”s make you close yourself off little by little, fold your passion again and again until it’s too small to cause you any more hurt. It’s tremendously difficult and brave to remain open in the face of life’s small daily disappointments. I look forward to sharing this passage with my husband.
Beka´s last blog post…Spring Is Springing Up Everywhere


secret agent woman April 18, 2011 at 6:56 pm

I don’t think that’s the wrong person to identify with. He betrayed her by folding away his passion – stole something wonderful from her.
secret agent woman´s last blog post…A little more of my yard- because Im too tired to write about the weekend right now


pattypunker April 18, 2011 at 3:02 pm

here here! “i want to give her a blog”! best line ever.
pattypunker´s last blog post…absence is making your heart grow fonder- right say it’s right


meleah rebeccah April 18, 2011 at 2:13 pm

Arms akimbo!!


SisterMerryHellish April 18, 2011 at 1:07 pm

What a beautiful and terror-inducing passage. And I’m not talking about the crotchless underwear!

Thank Morgan Freeman you’re awake for it all! To go numb is the worst kind of death.
SisterMerryHellish´s last blog post…Maybe It’s His Birthday Too


MacDougal Street Baby April 18, 2011 at 12:29 pm

Sadly, I know many couples who live exactly like this. The emptiness that comes from an apathetic relationship can be excruciating. Bravo to anyone who stands in deviance.

I’m really sorry for your friend. A blog might just be what she needs.


Nikki Rules April 18, 2011 at 10:48 am

I want to read this book. I’ve been with the same guy now for 8 years and we are both so determined to not become comfortable. Yet, every time you get hurt you fold yourself up again and again. Like Ted.

Nice paragraph. Nice post. Thanks!
Nikki Rules´s last blog post…Im Part Of The Momfia- And Im Not A MOM!


Elly Lou April 18, 2011 at 9:39 am

I love you. And her. And “deliquesced.” And that you both are filled with so much fight.
Elly Lou´s last blog post…I Want Uke


BigLittleWolf April 18, 2011 at 8:34 am

What a stunning piece of writing, and I daresay, as a woman who lived an empty marriage in which desire and affection were deleted very early on, this captures that very private, very sorrowful experience quite beautifully.
BigLittleWolf´s last blog post…Are You Emotionally Needy


Naptimewriting April 18, 2011 at 2:04 am

I’m not sure how anyone could read that passage and *not* side with Susan. Why would we ever read the tidy, clinical, love diminisher as ourselves. It’s much more poignant to see ourselves in the one wronged, minimized, and brainwashed.

Thanks for the addition to my reading pile. And here’s hoping your friend finds something amazing in tomorrow.
Naptimewriting´s last blog post…Molehill- meet the mountain makers


Velva April 17, 2011 at 7:31 pm

As always, thanks for being you. Love the post.
Velva´s last blog post…Curried Carrot Soup


Jasmine April 17, 2011 at 4:42 pm

Becoming who we are/were is so hard…
Jasmine´s last blog post…FYE- Young Folks


Sidney April 17, 2011 at 11:20 am

I smell an akimbo arising a’brewing…
Sidney´s last blog post…MadLibs!


writerwoman61 April 17, 2011 at 11:16 am

This is an incredibly sad passage, Lin…I think it happens all to often in relationships once couples get “comfortable.” Thanks for sharing it!

writerwoman61´s last blog post…‘Twixt- ‘Tween- and Twain…An Exclusive Interview


TechnoBabe April 17, 2011 at 9:01 am

Good for you. The risk is worth feeling oh so alive.
TechnoBabe´s last blog post…Constant Craving


kathy April 17, 2011 at 7:47 am

I am wordlessly akimbo!
kathy´s last blog post…Gallery Saturday


Andrea April 17, 2011 at 7:05 am

I could read this over and over and get lost in it every time. Amazing how a paragraph can move you.
Andrea´s last blog post…Been Caught Stealing


Jack@TheJackB April 17, 2011 at 2:25 am

Akimbo- Every time I hear that word I want to say that I have a black belt in it and then watch them try to figure out if I am serious or not.
Jack@TheJackB´s last blog post…Daddy’s Girl


Life with Kaishon April 16, 2011 at 11:45 pm

I am praying for your friend.
With love, Becky
Life with Kaishon´s last blog post…Windy Day by Mary Jeffries


A Vapid Blonde April 16, 2011 at 6:35 pm

I’m not sure why but the word “deliquesced” makes me feel gooey and warm. As does this post. I stand with Dufmanno. Arms Akimbo!
A Vapid Blonde´s last blog post…Power Snatch!


linlah April 16, 2011 at 6:04 pm

I wouldn’t just caress the edge I’d caress the whole page.
linlah´s last blog post…hoover dam does not power las vegas


Dufmanno April 16, 2011 at 4:33 pm

God I love this. For all the right reasons. Arms akimbo!!


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