Dear Readers of Proust:
I type with trepidation, fear, and yes a sense of loathing for I have only but opened one cover and in so doing, bent the spine back to the most uncomfortable position, and yet I have recognized that it is what I must do to pass through the fields of literary longing in a desperate effort to understand and comment…
…what the ever loving, good god almighty fuss is with Proust.
Wait. Let me say that a different way.
I had promised myself I would not write this. I’m ill equipped. And after all, what’s the point. People have spent quite literally years wandering through the ramblings of Marcel Proust, dissecting and analyzing in ways that I could not hope to understand or reconcile. I bow at your feet for you have made the journey and crossed the passage to something I will never understand.
And I’m guessing that you understand it.
But I could not stop myself from this offering as fate found me not once, but twice, in a not so unlikely place. Yup, the coffee shop.
You should know that I am the proud owner of a beautiful copy of Swann’s Way (translation by C.K. Scott Moncrieff and illustrations by Bernard Lamotte) and that I felt genuine excitement when it arrived at my door. I immediately dropped everything, and even turned down the sound of the Red Sox game (not off) and dove into my literary chasm that would leave me gasping for air and Cormac McCarthy.
Give it time. It’s only the first few pages. The excitement faded and by the time I reached the first illustration I confess I was lost and disillusioned, and not at all excited. I had to put it down. I’ll come back to it.
The next day I’m at the coffee shop, packed in table-to-table, and the woman sitting next to me is reading Proust. I swear a halo of hope appeared over her head and while I’m not one to bother folks mainlining caffeine, I caught her eye and verbally wrestled her to the ground, begging for help.
Can I ask you a question about Proust?
I just started Swann’s Way, and I’m having a really hard time. I don’t get it and he’s really hard to read. Am I missing it? Does it get better?
She smiled. I’ve renewed this book three times at the library. They said I could keep renewing it. Nobody is asking for it. I have 90 pages to go and it is really hard to get through. He was a bit on an odd duck you know.
Ya, I find it easier to read about him than to read him.
Well, to answer your questions…NO.
She smiled and we chatted about the weather and I thanked her for her time and candor. I headed for home dejected. The halo of hope had faded.
I’m back at the coffee shop on Sunday, fully two and a half weeks after my first encounter with the Proust lifeline lady. I tuck myself into the corner table and I’m typing away on this and that and you can guess what comes next.
She comes to the table that is next to me and places her coat and notebook on the table. And then, in slow motion, the book is laid down.
I stare at it as she goes to get her coffee.
I cannot resist.
Have you finished Proust?
Oh, you’re the gentleman I was talking to a couple weeks ago.
Yes. I’m envious of your resolve. You’re still reading it?
I have thirty pages to go. It’s due at the library on Wednesday so I have to finish it. I don’t want to renew it again.
Well, what’s the verdict? Has it gotten any better? Is there any hope?
Hmmm. Well have you been reading any more?
No, I said.
No, she said. I guess I’m glad I got through it. I’m really glad I only have thirty pages left.
In some ways I’m envious of you. The endurance you have is amazing and your ability to see things that I cannot is clear. The Club of Proust is an invitation only organization. I’m OK with that.
So is the lady in the coffee shop.