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Mon January 12, 2004
Reading with the television on.
By Nicki Leone
Wilmington NC – [Click the LISTEN button to hear Nicki's commentary.]
Owing to the eccentric heating system of my very old creek-side cottage, it is a little chilly in the house right now, and this has had an affect on my reading. See, the warmest room is the living room, and normally you would find me in the evenings curled up with a book in my favorite yellow velvet chair. But the living room is also where the television is, and if someone else wants to watch a movie, I can?t tune it out.
Usually when this happens I will simply leave the room But on these chilly evenings, the living room is really the only bearable room in the house, so I am stuck trying to read with the television on.
I have discovered I can do this to sports shows?I have no problem glancing up occasionally from a book to find out how its going with the New England Patriots (no problem, that is, unless it turns into a game like the Panthers had on Saturday?where two missed field goals and one interception made for the most breathless overtime game I have seen in years). I am in more trouble if the television is turned to a movie or even the news. Then, the book I am reading had best be REALLY good, or I will get distracted and put it down. The book I was reading this week was really good. Really, REALLY good. Double Vision, by the very amazing British author, Pat Barker.
Barker is known for writing some of the most piercing and eloquent anti-war novels ever to see print. She is once again in familiar territory here, although wars in this era are fought against less distinct, less definable enemies. Double Vision is the story of two reporters, Ben and Stephen. They are war-journalists, men who have made a career of documenting the many atrocities we inflict upon each other in the name of nationalism and religious freedom. They first met in Yugoslavia. They happened to be in New York City when terrorists smashed two airplanes into the World Trade Center Towers. They were both on assignment in Afghanistan, where the inherent risks of their occupation finally caught up with them, and Ben died.
Stephen, suffering badly from post-traumatic stress disorder (a very clinical description for the nightmares and cold sweats that wrack his sleep), retires to his brother?s house to write a book on violence in the media. The neighborhood is collection of souls whose lives are marred by violence in one form or another. At one end of the spectrum is Justine, the vicar?s pretty and generous 19 year old daughter whose open innocence is a temptation to more than Stephen. At the other end is Kate, an artist and Ben?s widow, still in anguish from losing her husband, and suffering as badly as the Christ figure she has been commissioned to create- her body braced and pinned after a terrible car accident. Moving among all these hurt souls is Adam, Stephen?s nephew, who suffers from Asperger?s Syndrome, and Peter- a mysterious, even sinister young man who could be a vision of Adam?s future.
It is an open question whether any of the people in this story can be healed. The author suggests that it is possible, if they find a way to reach out to each other, rather than giving in to their own pain and isolation. But Barker is not one to hold out rosy visions of the future- she is swift and unrelenting in her condemnation of the brutality of war in all its forms, and she has some cuttingly accurate things to say about the media?s reliance on violence. Double Vision is a raw, but ultimately hopeful story that suggests kindness, if only between neighbors or friends or lovers?while it will never be enough to wipe out evil- will be enough to make life good.
Nicki Leone is the manager of an independent bookstore in Wilmington.