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Motion Sicknessby Lynne Tillman
Synopses & Reviews
There's a message at the desk which Pradip hands me absentmindedly. He's got headphones on. The small stud in his left ear is a new addition: He's reading an Indian movie magazine which his cousin brought back from New Delhi. He's laughing. I tell him I like fanzines. This one's mad, he says, really mad. I can borrow it when he's through. The message is from Alfred and Paul, They want to see a movie tomorrow night, at least Paul does, after dinner.
No one's ever in the hallway down below. People are in or out. I'd like to watch them spring from their rooms simultaneously. I never see any of them, or hardly ever hear telltale noises. No arguments. No grunts. No farts. I don't go to breakfast anymore. The chambermaid has been here, I see traces of her neatening touch. I jump on the bed and rustle the spread. I don't like tidy rooms. They reek of isolation. Neat beds, coffins and death. I'm glad I'm not married to my associations or forced to announce them in public. I might be set in stocks for them, socially humiliated. Maybe I am married to my associations and can never get a divorce. Jessica tells me that one of the worst things that can happen to an English person is to be embarrassed. It means something else here, she says. We can't possibly understand it.
In another world bloodhounds might be trained to sniff out humiliating episodes, devastating scenes. Or maybe that's how analysts are seen. This sniffing-?out-?the-?married-?man business that I ought to have done, according to Sarah, if I'd had the nose for it. With the machine called the simulator, Zoran would've been revealed in no time. Some police departments in the States use the simulator. It's a computer that shows movies and slides of crimes about to happen. The viewer, a cop, is hooked up to the machine and to a heart monitor which measures the cop's responses. As the cop's pulse rate goes
up, the slides, chosen by the computer from a bank of images, display more
threatening scenes. The pulse goes up. The heart doesn't lie. It can't be
controlled. What you think you should feel is different from what you do feel.
It's in your body. The enemy within. The racist. The sexist. The bully. The
selfish baby. Greedy miserable feelings can't be hidden or contained.The reporter Fowler says of his loss of the Vietnamese woman to the quiet American: It was as though she were being taken away from me by a nation rather than by a man.”
I can't ask Alfred or Paul about embarrassment, though I'd like to. I might just wait until one of them is embarrassed. But how could I tell? If embarrassment is such an awful experience, their defenses must be powerful and subtle and I would never be able to discern telltale marks that another English person could easily recognize. Alfred hems and haws through dinner. Maybe I have embarrassed him. Or perhaps I ought to be embarrassed by something I've done. Something I will never understand. Finally, after three glasses of wine, I ask Alfred, What embarrasses you most? His cheeks blush pink. Paul clears his throat and answers for him, Direct questions.
Alfred leaves us without saying where he's going, just saunters
vaguely into the night. To his girlfriend's fat, I suppose. Paul and I are
going to see a revival of A Place in the Sun, with Monty and Liz. I don't know if I've ever seen it except on TV.
Paul is delighted to view it with an American. It's based, he tells me, on
Dreiser's An American Tragedy. l
could tell him that I've read the novel. That might embarrass him. Instead I
bear up under the weight of being a native informant.
There's an amazing shot in the movie, when the boss's poor
relation, Monty Clift, is seducing the poor factory worker, Shelley Winters.
The radio is on the windowsill, romantic music's playing. Shelley and Monty are
inside her dreary bedroom. Outside, the camera moves slowly, sinuously, along
the bushes, rustling the leaves, heading toward the house and the open window.
Behind the open window are Shelley and Monty. The camera settles on the radio
which sits on the windowsill. The tune's poignant, melancholy, the soundtrack
for a still and hot night. Shelley is being undone by Monty, factory worker
seduced by factory owner's poor relation. The tragedy is set in motion and all
will be lost.
Paul compares that camera movement, full of longing and
prohibited desire, with what we both agree is the single most disturbing shot
in movies. In Hitchcock's Frenzy the
camera backs down the stairs in one continuous movement as the pervert is about
to torture and kill yet another woman behind a closed door. The camera tracks
down the stairs, pulling away from the closed door, out the front door, into
the street, to reveal Covent Garden—when it was still a fruit and vegetable
market—in all its ordinariness. A woman is being raped and murdered. The camera
keeps moving back until the murderous space disappears into daily life. Paul
and I walk to the tube. The train lurches forward more quietly than subways
taking off in New York. I keep thinking about the camera moving toward the
window, evoking longing, and tracking away from the door, evincing horror.
Sylvie running down the stairs after learning that Sal was murdered, the camera
pulling back until she's out of sight.
Out of sight and out of mind. It's funny about longing. Or how longing and horror sometimes meet inside oneself, in a private Dracula. Vampirish need. When longing's absent, when I feel no specific desire for anything, anything I can name, I vacillate, feel determined, content or empty. With it inside me, a clenched baby's fist below my heart, probably in the neighborhood of the solar plexus, uneasiness surges through my body and I'm not sure where to look, what to eat, what to do. Alfred appeals to me. And fills me with a sort of low-?key horror. Since he has a girlfriend, and has had for months, maybe even since before we were in the hill towns, I'm assured that he can do it, but he's unavailable. I might like to lead him astray. Or be led astray. Hideous, ungracious longing. It would be better and more simple to push down treacherous desire, like swallowing poison or the awful truth. If Alfred were in front of me, I might permit myself a betrayal, my hand might touch the back of his neck, or I might permit myself a betrayal that would go no further than one thought traveling to another. Visitors can do that with impunity.
For the narrator of Motion Sickness, life is an unguided tour. Adrift in Europe, she improvises a life and a self. In London, she's befriended by an expatriate American Buddhist and her mysterious husband, or may or may not be stalking her. In Paris, she shacks up with Arlette, an art historian obsessed with Velazquez;s painting "Las Meinas." In Amsterdam, she teams up with a Belgian friend, who is studying prostitutes, and she tours Italy with deeply mismatched English brothers. And, as with an epic journey, the true trajectory is inwards, ever inwards, into her own dreams and desires...
For the narrator of Motion Sickness, life is an unguided tour, populated with hotels, art, strangers, books, and movies. Adrift in Europe in the late 1980s, she improvises a life and a self. In London, shes befriended by an expatriate American Buddhist and her mysterious husband, who may be following her. In Paris, she discovers Arlette, an art historian obsessed with Velazquez's painting Las Meninas.” In Barcelona, she is befriended by two generations of Germans, pre- and post-World War 2. She tours the hill towns of Italy, in a London taxi, with two surprising Englishmen, brothers in pursuit of art and Henry Moore. And everywhere she goes she collects postcards.
Praise for Lynne Tillman
"One of America's most challenging and adventurous writers." — Guardian
"Lynne Tillman has always been a hero of mine—not because I 'admire' her writing, (although I do, very, very much), but because I feel it. Imagine driving alone at night. You turn on the radio and hear a song that seems to say it all. That's how I feel..." — Jonathan Safran Foer
"Like an acupuncturist, Lynne Tillman knows the precise points in which to sink her delicate probes. One of the biggest problems in composing fiction is understanding what to leave out; no one is more severe, more elegant, more shocking in her reticences than Tillman." — Edmund White
Anything Ive read by Tillman Ive devoured.” — Anne K. Yoder, The Millions
"If I needed to name a book that is maybe the most overlooked important piece of fiction in not only the 00s, but in the last 50 years, [American Genius, A Comedy] might be the one. I could read this back to back to back for years." — Blake Butler, HTML Giant
About the Author
Lynne Tillman (New York, NY) is the author of five novels, three collections of short stories, one collection of essays and two other nonfiction books. She collaborates often with artists and writes regularly on culture, and her fiction is anthologized widely. Her last collection of short stories, This Is Not It, included 23 stories based on the work of 22 contemporary artists. Her novels include American Genius, A Comedy (2006), No Lease on Life (1998) which was a New York Times Notable Book of 1998 and a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, Cast in Doubt (1992), Motion Sickness (1991), and Haunted Houses (1987). The Broad Picture (1997) collected Tillmans essays, which were published in literary and art periodicals. She is the Fiction Editor at Fence Magazine, Professor and Writer-in-Residence in the Department of English at the University at Albany, and a recent recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship.
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