Michael Faber is one of my favorite authors. He published a novel in 2014, which normally I would have jumped to get my hands on, but with everything going on with Vernon, I didn’t stop to read it. Then I came across it in my local library last weekend. I finished the 500-page book this morning, after a mere three nights. It’s a rare book that keeps me reading while I’m getting the kids ready for school and waiting in parking lots for pickup…let alone staying up late. The book is called “The Book of Strange New Things,” and it turns out that NOW was the right time to read it, not three years ago.
Basically its the story of a loving couple who are separated when the husband, Peter, a minister, takes a mission to a space station in some unknown planet as a missionary to the species who live there. Peter and his wife Bea are only able to email each other sporadically, with lags in their communication, due to distance and time. As he tries to acclimate to his new surroundings, Bea’s world is falling apart and she struggles to survive. They love each other, but they have trouble relating to what the other is experiencing. It wasn’t long before I myself felt incredibly moved by the story. I felt like the story could have been about Vernon and I (even Eva’s voice reminded me of my own)— the long goodbye we shared, living in two different proverbial planets…and his moving deeper into the strange adventure of his brain injury, when I was left alone trying to understand where he’d disappeared to, trying to remind him of US. The story also deeply resonated with me in the sense of grief after death—yearning and longing for my other half, who was clearly no where I could reach. There were other things, too, that made me gasp again and again as the story dug its way into my heart, pulling out new things for me to reflect on. To me, at this point in my life, it was the perfect novel: strangely more true than false, taking me out of my head to understand my own surreal life a little better.
Imagine getting this in a letter from your Dear Departed: “This mission has turned out very different from what I anticipated. The things I expected to have a lot of trouble with have gone astonishingly smoothly, but I feel out of my depth in other ways I never imagined. ….But what has actually tested me beyond my abilities is the gulf that has opened up between you and me. I don’t mean an emotional gulf, in that my feelings for you have changed in any way. I mean a barrier that circumstances has pushed between us. Of course, physically, we are a huge distance apart. That doesn’t help. But the main thing I’m having to confront is that our relationship, until now, has totally depended on us being together. Suddenly we’re on different paths. And your path has veered off in a frighteningly strange direction.”
It turns out that Faber’s own wife passed away shortly before the book was published. For Eva—the dedication of all his books. She’d had cancer for six years, but she had insisted during that time that he finish the book. When I read that, I understood why the book had met me on such a profound level: he was writing about dying and the grief of separation, even though the story seems to be about something else. I also found out that after her death three years ago, he published a book of grief poems about her. I ordered it yesterday— can’t wait to read it.
“Books are the mirrors of the soul.” —Virginia Woolf