Will You Tell Me More?
A couple weeks ago I posted a piece titled, “Read More Fiction.” One of the nice things that happened in response was that a number of you sent titles of your recent favorites (see the list after the conclusion of this piece).
One of those, suggested by Richard Kaufmann, former “Books Editor” at the Christian Century, is a novel titled The Dive From Clausen’s Pier by Ann Packer. We’re so awash in superlatives these days that it’s hard to use them without sounding silly or empty. So I’ll say this, it’s a really superlative contemporary novel (published 2002). Very powerful. Very real. And with a hovering grace.
But this is not a review. Rather I want to quote from one brief scene where the main character, Carrie (23) is with her ex-boyfriend, fiancé, Mike. As a result of a diving accident a year ago, Mike is now a quadriplegic. A mutual friend had confided to Carrie that Mike had spoken of suicide. One final note, Carrie has been gone for six months, really she ran away because she had to. But she left all sorts of folks, including Mike, in the lurch. Now she’s come back. That’s enough to step into this scene:
Speaking of another patient who will never breathe without a ventilator, Mike blurted,
“‘He’s a head on a pillow, if that were me I’d rather be dead.’ (The story continues,)
“I braked and turn to face him. ‘Mike.’
“‘I would.’ He looked at me defiantly, and my first impulse was to look away, to brush it off, to bury it. You’d didn’t say that. But he had.
“‘Will you –‘ I hesitated. ‘Will you tell me more?’ Immediately I felt my face fill with heat . . . What would Mike say? How would I react? I was nervous but forced myself to wait, to not fill the silence with words, and after a while he sighed and began to speak.”
A small moment of revelation in a book that is full of them.
I was apprehensive that Carrie’s response to Mike would be on the order of, “Promise me, you’ll never do that!” Might have been my move in some comparable situations. Fear leading to an effort to control another (whom we cannot control).
But the question she asks, “Will you tell me more?” . . .
It’s not about her (“Promise me”), it’s about Mike. “Will you tell me more?”
Part of the overall plot is the painful dive that Carrie herself takes, though it is a metaphorical one, in her case. She dives into the depths of sorting out who she is and differentiating herself from her boyfriend of all high-school and college, Mike, and the life was their’s in Madison, Wisconsin. In this exchange, she demonstrates that she has found this hard-won capacity for knowing where she stops and where another person start (aka “boundaries”). And yet, ironically that very distance results in an act of far greater compassion — “Will you tell me more?” — than an anxious “Promise me . . .”
Then Carrie has to wait, “to not fill the silence with words.” (A little bit of a tangent, but so often worship leaders fill a silence — that needs to be reverently kept or held — with words, silly prattle.)
I share this powerful vignette partly as a small sample of the book, but more for the revelation about relationships and courage and what happens when we face topics and situations in which fear threatens to overwhelm us.
A model here for pastoral counseling, for friendship, for being a parent, for marriage. “Will you tell me more?”
p.s. other fiction recommended by readers as follows: “Nightingale” by Kristin Hannah, “Quichotte,” by Salman Rusdie, “American Dirt,” “Olive Again” or anything by Elizabeth Strout, and “Dear Edward” by Ann Napolitano.