Page 131 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 50

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LOWIN / DAVID GROSSMAN’S USEFUL FICTIONS
123
and not a self-conscious narrator, that we learn that, like Khilmi,
he has a use for fiction. Although he protests that while Khilmi
uses fiction to remember, he uses it to forget, such is not entirely
the case. Like Khilmi, he tells stories in order to remember a
past that doesn’t exist — and never did.
One of the more quaint anecdotes in the novel is the story
of Uri’s abiding adolescent love for a girl named Ruthy. A sol­
dier in an army barracks, he had fallen in love with Ruthy from
afar, through a sentimental correspondence. “A year and half
later,” he relates, “I found out by chance that in reality Ruthy,
the girl of my dreams, was two guys from my company who
had been writing to me, using the mailing address of one of
them.” The telling of this prank reinforces our reading of Uri
as
schlemiel,
the one with the smile of the lamb constantly on
his face. But the story goes further. “The worst part was that
I went on loving her. It was totally irrational. Even when I got
out of the army, I couldn’t help comparing girls I met to Ruthy,
my first love.”
(SOL,
pp. 222-23). Obviously, once a fiction has
been assimilated, it takes on a life and a reality all its own, no
less true and no less affecting than real life. It is less painful
to accept the fiction than to abandon it.
For Khilmi, the fiction has a way of eternalizing life, or at
least of overcoming death. Khilmi’s “son,” Yazdi, has become
a terrorist and has been killed by an Israeli patrol. Uri has taken
it upon himself to be the bearer of the bad news. He watches
as Khilmi reacts to the announcement and comments: “He’s
telling himself a different version of the story, and the strong
enzymes of
kan-ya-ma-kan
are even now dissolving his dead son
into splashes of color and points of memory which will recom­
bine without the pain, because Yazdi is not dead, there is no
death, there is only a sudden flagging of one fiction out of
many”
(SOL,
p. 53).
Shosh, the therapist, who feels guilt for the suicide of Mordy,
one of her young patients, also uses fiction as an instrument,
not to bring Mordy back to life, but as therapy to assuage her
feelings of guilt. Every evening since the suicide, Shosh has en­
closed herself in her office and has taken to speaking into a
tape recorder. She has become, like Khilmi, an oral storyteller.
There she confesses that her reports on her patient’s case were
themselves a fiction. “I lost myself,” she recounts, “in a thrilling
creative endeavor, as I invented a different Mordy, a lively, co­