Monday, August 30, 2021

Attachments by Jeff Arch

Attachments by Jeff Arch
This is primarily a love story, a love triangle between two best friends and one girl loved by both. But it is an incredibly complex story full of lies and secrets. Stewart Goodman, known by all as Goody and Santamo Piccolo, known as Pick, are unlikely best friends. Goody is a quiet and reflective boy who ponders all the big questions, while Pick is brash, cynical and dismissive of all things spiritual. Laura is Pick’s girlfriend and the love of his life. The three become fast friends at the boarding school all three attend.

Years after the three leave the school, a teacher, Griffin, becomes the  dean of the school, and as the story begins Griffin is felled by a stroke, and his last conscious words uttered to his secretary who sees him fall are, Pick and Goody. Throughout the book, Griffin is suspended between life and death, on life support machines. There are other characters who sometimes act as narrator, but I’m not going to try to sum up the story. The author jumps from time to time and character to character in a dizzying manner, that makes the entire novel read as a kind of stream of consciousness.

I’m more interested in conveying a theme returned to again and again in the novel which I will call a struggle, a tension, between clear cold reason and spirituality. I see it as the author’s argument with himself about this tension. Much like Ian McEwan’s wonderful little novel Black Dogs, in which it is clear that McEwan favors the life of reason his philosopher brother defends , but feels the pull of  that which reason seems not able to explain. The black dogs represent the two sides; we might even say the left and right hemispheres of the brain. Plato uses a similar metaphor in his description of the tripartite soul: the black steed of passion or appetite, the white steed of spirt and reason as the charioteer.

Pick has a no nonsense view of all things, while Goody seems open to all religions. At one point, Pick takes Goody to task for talking admiringly of Jesus, though Goody is a Jew.

“They want you to behave a certain way,” Pick went on, “so they throw Jesus at you.  Look at history, for Christ’s sake”

Goody shook his head. “It wasn’t propaganda when it started though.”

“You think he was the Son of God?” Pick asked. “I didn’t think you guys were allowed to”

Goody crumbled up some more hash and dropped it into the pipe bowl. “To me, Jesus is...he’s like the older brother, you know? Like the ultimate older brother”... I mean God is the father, right? Everybody at least agrees with that.

“Everybody who believes in God.”

Goody looked at him, to see if he could actually mean that. “Well when you’re a kid, you know, your father...he’s this powerful thing.

“He’s this force,” Goody went on. “And he’s above you and he’s mysterious and everything comes from him. And then Jesus, he’s like your older brother—he explains your father to you. He’s off to the side, just a little. And from there he interprets things. So that you can understand what the hell is going on sometimes.

Pick looked at him. “That’s what the Jews think?”

“I don’t know what they think. Nobody ever talks about him.”

While I am clearly on the side of reason and defend atheism, I have a sense for what both McEwan and Arch are wrestling with.

This is a truly beautiful love story. The love between Goody and Pick is lovely and both characters are drawn fully and carefully. The love Laura has for each of the boys in turn  Is beautiful rather than trashy or deceitful. The love of Griffin for his wife and son, all of these loves are described so well. 

Because of the many narrators and the sudden, unannounced shifts of  time and place this is not an easy novel to follow. Added to that  is the obvious fact  that Arch is most comfortable as a screen writer, so almost all of the text is in the form of monologue or dialogue. 

This is just a beautiful book, and as touching an examination of the many kinds of love as i can recall. This is not a book I would have picked up as a matter of course, but it fell into my hands from one of the readers in a small group of friends who pass along books to each other, and I was deeply touched by it. 

In many ways Griffin, who never speaks for himself, is the glue that holds the book and the characters together. Does he survive the stroke and return to his school and his family? That is something  readers will have to determine for themselves. 

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