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Death, Winter, and Goosebumps

January 27, 2011

I got goosebumps once. What with walking around in recent temperatures in the single digits and last night’s Nor’easter which brought mountains of snow, you’d think those goosebumps would have been recent. Maybe they were. But the goosebumps I’m thinking of just now were about ten years ago, and it was summer.

I was in the British Library, and I was listening to some of the sound archives they had on file. I listened to T. S. Eliot begin reading his poem The Waste Land. “April is the cruellest month.” And that particular summer when I was 20, I was all set up to love love love England and high culture, to plunge into culture and history fathoms deep and delight in canonized geniuses. And I did.

When I heard Eliot’s droll voice reading that line, overturning Chaucer’s 600ish-years-old opening about April’s sweet showers and calling it all rot, I got goosebumps.

So this week I’ve been reading Bernard Malamud’s The Assistant for my Recent American Fiction class (which I have affectionately dubbed “Twelve Depressing Novels”), a good book that often paints life as weary and disappointing.

The novel has been my cheery accompaniment on subway trains as I crawl in and out of the wind, in and out of shuffling fast on sidewalks crowded with snow and limited paths through unsalted ice. Those same natural elements culminated last night into a jolly additional nineteen inches of snowfall, and I got a holiday from my class at Rutgers.

To celebrate this happy event I went to a Henrik Ibsen play, John Gabriel Borkman. The cast lineup was terrific: Fiona Shaw, Alan Rickman, and Lindsay Duncan were the hotshots. And the set absolutely matched the scene outside with hard white drifts, bleak floors, and blustery, literally murderous snowfall. It was all about how Rickman’s character had ruined the family by embezzlement (or something), and how they had subsequently ruined their own lives in being so angry about everything for so long.

And I think I did have goosebumps. Maybe it was all the death, or maybe it was the absolutely formidable winter weather. Or maybe, like in the British Library over a decade ago, it was love.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Vaughn permalink
    February 2, 2011 7:24 pm


    Sharon and Rickman sittin’ in a tree…

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