21세기의 벨자 느낌일 거라고 기대했던 과는 다르게 지루하고 (그런데 계속 읽히긴 함) 무의미한 한탄의 연속이었다.
게다가 주인공은 금수저 와스프의 전형이고, 여배우 뺨치게 예쁘다는 묘사가 거듭 반복되어 나오는데, 유일하게 부족한 것이라곤 행복한 가족임에도 불구하고 계속해서 모든 걸 박탈당한 사람인 것마냥 한탄하는 게 내가 보기엔 아주 기만적으로 느껴졌다. 그렇다고 해서 가족들과 잘 지내본 적이 없다는 걸 이유로 불행해하는 것도 아니었고. 어찌나 기만적인지 나보코브가 험버트를 까기 위해 그의 입을 빌려 <롤리타>를 지었던 것처럼 (수많은 남성 독자들이 이를 오독하고는 이건 우리들의 이상성욕을 인정해 주는 아름다운 로맨스물이다 헠헠 했지만...) 이 작가도 같은 방식을 빌려 크레이지 리치 화이트들을 까려는 것이 아닐까 싶어 혼란스러웠다.
그러나 이 소설은 흔하디흔한 정병물이 될 뻔했다가 마지막 챕터 덕분에 내 마음속에 엄청난 띵작으로 남게 되었다. 'haunting'이라는 표현이 딱 들어맞는 결말이라 자기 전에 다 읽고 침대에 누웠다가 한참 동안 잠을 못 이루고 마지막 문장에 대해 생각했다. 조너선 사프란 포어의 <엄청나게 시끄럽고 믿을 수 없게 가까운>의 결말에서는 주인공이 9.11 테러 때 쌍둥이 빌딩에서 몸을 던진 사람의 사진을 보며 자신의 아버지를 떠올리는데, 여기에서도 비슷한 상황이 나온다. 그러나 전자의 경우 (그리고 이런 비극적인 상황을 다루고 있는 소설들의 경우) 이런 상황을 주인공 본인의 상실감과 연결짓지만, 여기에선 똑같은 상황을 상실감 대신 인간의 실존과 연결짓는다. 주인공의 마지막 말이 타인의 고통에 대한 또다른 기만처럼 보이면서도 수긍이 가서 정말로 기괴했다.
요르고스 란티모스 차기작이 이 소설을 각색한 영화라고 하던데 정말 여기서 느껴지는 꿉꿉하고 기괴한 분위기는 란티모스가 아니면 제대로 살려낼 사람이 없을 거라는 생각이 든다.
+) 그나저나 주인공이 영 맘에 안 들기는 해도 세상에 환멸 느끼는 사유가 나랑 많이 비슷해서 공감을 못하지는 않았는데, 나도 이렇게 최소 6개월에서 최대 1년 잡고 잠만 쭉 자고 나면 세상이 많이 아름답게 보일까?
I was both relieved and irritated when Reva showed up, the way you’d feel if someone interrupted you in the middle of suicide.
When we’d watched Before Sunrise on video one day, she’d said, “Did you know Julie Delpy’s a feminist? I wonder if that’s why she’s not skinnier. No way they’d cast her in this role if she were American. See how soft her arms are? Nobody here tolerates arm flab. Arm flab is a killer. It’s like the SAT’s. You don’t even exist if you’re below 1400.” “Does it make you happy that Julie Delpy has arm flab?” I’d asked her. “No,” she’d said after some consideration. “Happiness is not what I’d call it. More like satisfaction.”
And according to her terms, she was right: I looked like a model, had money I hadn’t earned, wore real designer clothing, had majored in art history, so I was “cultured.” Reva, on the other hand, came from Long Island, was an 8 out of 10 but called herself “a New York three,” and had majored in economics. “The Asian nerd major,” she named it.
Initially, I just wanted some downers to drown out my thoughts and judgments, since the constant barrage made it hard not to hate everyone and everything. I thought life would be more tolerable if my brain were slower to condemn the world around me.
But reading up on a drug sapped its magic. It made the sleep seem trite, just another mechanical function of the body, like sneezing or shitting or bending at the joint. The “side effects and warnings” on the Internet were discouraging, and anxieties over them amplified the volume of my thoughts, which was the exact opposite of what I hoped the pills would do.
Like most Halloween costumes, mine was an excuse to go around town dressed like a whore.
In college, the art history department had been rife with that specific brand of young male. An “alternative” to the mainstream frat boys and premed straight and narrow guys, these scholarly, charmless, intellectual brats dominated the more creative departments. As an art history major, I couldn’t escape them. “Dudes” reading Nietzsche on the subway, reading Proust, reading David Foster Wallace, jotting down their brilliant thoughts into a black Moleskine pocket notebook. Beer bellies and skinny legs, zip-up hoodies, navy blue peacoats or army green parkas, New Balance sneakers, knit hats, canvas tote bags, small hands, hairy knuckles, maybe a deer head tattooed across a flabby bicep. They rolled their own cigarettes, didn’t brush their teeth enough, spent a hundred dollars a week on coffee. They would come into Ducat, the gallery I ended up working at, with their younger—usually Asian—girlfriends. (중략) They lived mostly in Brooklyn, another reason I was glad to live on the Upper East Side. Nobody up there listened to the Moldy Peaches. Nobody up there gave a shit about “irony” or Dogme 95 or Klaus Kinski. (중략) The worst was that those guys tried to pass off their insecurity as “sensitivity,” (중략) So they focused on “abstract ideas” and developed drinking problems to blot out the self-loathing they preferred to call “existential ennui.” It was easy to imagine those guys masturbating to Chloë Sevigny, to Selma Blair, to Leelee Sobieski. To Winona Ryder.
팩폭^^ 저거 뭔가... 서양애들 표현으로 하자면 softboi 재질 아닌가요
The art at Ducat was supposed to be subversive, irreverent, shocking, but was all just canned counterculture crap, “punk, but with money,” nothing to inspire more than a trip around the corner to buy an unflattering outfit from Comme des Garçons.
Ping Xi’s work first appeared at Ducat as part of a group show called “Body of Substance,” and it consisted of splatter paintings, à la Jackson Pollock, made from his own ejaculate. He claimed that he’d stuck a tiny pellet of powdered colored pigment into the tip of his penis and masturbated onto huge canvases. He titled the abstract paintings as though each had some deep, dark political meaning. Blood-Dimmed Tide, and Wintertime in Ho Chi Minh City and Sunset over Sniper Alley. Decapitated Palestinian Child. Bombs Away, Nairobi. It was all nonsense, but people loved it.
But coming out of that sleep was excruciating. My entire life flashed before my eyes in the worst way possible, my mind refilling itself with all my lame memories, every little thing that had brought me to where I was.
OH, SLEEP. Nothing else could ever bring me such pleasure, such freedom, the power to feel and move and think and imagine, safe from the miseries of my waking consciousness. I was not a narcoleptic—I never fell asleep when I didn’t want to. I was more of a somniac. A somnophile. I’d always loved sleeping.
I could have acted out if I’d wanted to. I could have dyed my hair purple, flunked out of high school, starved myself, pierced my nose, slutted around, what have you. I saw other teenagers doing that, but I didn’t really have the energy to go to so much trouble. I did crave attention, but I refused to humiliate myself by asking for it. I’d be punished if I showed signs of suffering, I knew. So I was good. I did all the right things. I rebelled in silent ways, with my thoughts.
“Don’t be that way,” Reva crooned drunkenly. “Soon we’ll be old and ugly. Life is short, you know? Die young and leave a beautiful corpse. Who said that?” “Someone who liked fucking corpses.”
Halfway through the month, my Internet use began to rise even more. I woke up with my laptop screen filled with AOL chat-room conversations with strangers in places like Tampa and Spokane and Park City, Utah. In my waking hours, I rarely thought of sex, but in my medicated blackouts, I guess my lusts arose. I scrolled through the transcripts. They were surprisingly polite. “How are you?” “I’m fine, thanks, how are you? Horny much?” It went on from there. I was relieved I never gave anyone my real name. My AOL screen name was “Whoopigirlberg2000.” “Call me Whoopi.” “Call me Reva,” I once wrote. The photos men sent of their genitals were all banal, semierect, nonthreatening. “Your turn,” they’d write.
A survivor of the Titanic died in a car crash.
I felt again in the pockets of my coat for my phone, found only a receipt for a bubble tea in Koreatown and a rubber band.
His hands had grown bony and huge. His eyes had sunk into his skull and darkened. His skin had thinned. His arms were like bare tree branches. It was a strange scene. I studied Picasso’s The Old Guitarist. The Death of Casagemas. My father fit right into Picasso’s Blue Period. Man on Morphine.
Then, on a Sunday morning, my father was suddenly lucid and told me matter-of-factly that he would die in the afternoon. I don’t know if it was the directness and certitude of his statement that rattled me—he was always clinical, always rational, always dry—or that his death was no longer just an idea—it was happening, it was real—or if, during the week I’d spent by his side, we had bonded without my knowledge or consent and, all of a sudden, I loved him. So I lost it. I started crying. “I’ll be all right,” my father told me.
There were other things that might make me sad. I thought of Beaches, Steel Magnolias, the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., River Phoenix dying on the sidewalk in front of the Viper Room, Sophie’s Choice, Ghost, E.T., Boyz n the Hood, AIDS, Anne Frank. Bambi was sad. An American Tail and The Land Before Time were sad. I thought of The Color Purple, when Nettie gets kicked out and has to leave Celie in that house, a slave to her abusive husband. “Nothing but death can keep me from her!” That was sad. That should have done it, but I couldn’t cry. None of that penetrated deep enough to press whatever button controlled my “outpouring of sorrow.”
Maybe her best friend in high school had been one of the weirdos, like her. Maybe she’d had some kind of disability—a gimp arm, Tourette’s, Coke-bottle glasses, alopecia. I imagined the two of them together in that black basement bedroom listening to music: Joy Division. Siouxsie and the Banshees. It made me a little jealous to think of Reva being depressed and dependent on anyone but me.
That spring, I went for long walks around the city with earplugs in. I felt better just listening to the echoing sounds of my breathing, the phlegm roiling in my throat when I swallowed, my eyes blinking, the weak ticking of my heart.
I tore the tags off the bra and panties and put them on. My pubic hair puffed out the panties. It was a good joke—sexy underwear with a huge bush. I wished I had my Polaroid camera to capture the image.
“That’s my mom’s friend from Cleveland,” she said as an obese woman in a black muumuu hoisted herself onto the stage. She sang “On My Own” from Les Misérables, a cappella. It was painful to watch.
I dropped the class, had to explain to my adviser that I wanted to focus more on Neoclassicism, and switched to “Jacques-Louis David: Art, Virtue, and Revolution.” The Death of Marat was one of my favorite paintings. A man stabbed to death in the bathtub.
My mother used to say that if I couldn’t sleep I should count something that matters, anything but sheep. Count stars. Count Mercedes-Benzes. Count U.S. presidents. Count the years you have left to live. I might jump out the window, I thought, if I couldn’t sleep. I pulled the blanket up to my chest.
I counted famous people who committed suicide: Diane Arbus, the Hemingways, Marilyn Monroe, Sylvia Plath, van Gogh, Virginia Woolf. Poor Kurt Cobain.
I could take the train to Coney Island, I thought, walk along the beach in the freezing wind, and swim out into the ocean. Then I’d just float on my back looking up at the stars, go numb, get sleepy, drift, drift. Isn’t it only fair that I should get to choose how I’ll die? I wouldn’t die like my father did, passive and quiet while the cancer ate him alive. At least my mother did things her own way. I’d never thought to admire her before for that. At least she had guts. At least she took matters into her own hands.
binges. Bulimia was pricey if you had fine taste. I always thought it was pathetic that Reva had chosen to stay in the area after graduation, but passing through it in the cab, in my frenzied state of despair, I understood: there was stability in living in the past.
a prescription bottle of Vicodin. Vicodin! From the dentist. There were twelve pills left in the bottle. I took one and pocketed the rest.
I breathed and walked and sat on a bench and watched a bee circle the heads of a flock of passing teenagers. There was majesty and grace in the pace of the swaying branches of the willows. There was kindness. Pain is not the only touchstone for growth, I said to myself. My sleep had worked. I was soft and calm and felt things. This was good. This was my life now. I could survive without the house. I understood that it would soon be someone else’s store of memories, and that was beautiful. I could move on.
I am overcome by awe, not because she looks like Reva, and I think it’s her, almost exactly her, and not because Reva and I had been friends, or because I’ll never see her again, but because she is beautiful. There she is, a human being, diving into the unknown, and she is wide awake.
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