So many horrific things had occurred, so sententiously and so calmly, during the last hour; so much catastrophe had taken place, that, exhausted as he was by the day's excitement, for a delirious, irrational moment Emanuel felt like laughing.As he rides the train with his father to Berck Sanatorium, Emanuel meets an old lady whose son is a long-time patient. She asks if he has an abscess?
'Yes, I do,' Emanuel replied with a certain brusqueness. 'What's it to you?'Blecher's narrative pulls us inside the hyperfocus of a life commanded by illness. Today we celebrate technologies like virtual reality that are supposedly unique for immersing viewers in a full sensory experience of, say, sitting in the cockpit of a plane or walking across a battlefield, but Blecher's writing reminds one that books can be equally effective at enveloping the reader in the sensations of an experience that are not actually occurring to them.
This time the old lady said nothing. In the calligraphy of wrinkles on her face there was a clear sign of some great sadness. In a half-voice she ventured to ask if the abscess had been fistulised...
'It's a good thing the abscess is not fistulised,' muttered the old lady.
'And if it were?' replied Emanuel absently.
'Ah well, then it's another matter...' and leaning into his ear she whispered breathlessly: 'The word at Berck is that an open abscess is an open gateway to death.'
In this book, context is all. Blecher immerses us first in the immediate urgency of a young man's crippling illness, once that is achieved, the impact of this brief novel succeeds because we know two things, only one of which was known to Blecher. One is the tragedy that the author would die at 29 years-of-age, something we are aware of as his character worries about his appearance before meeting a girl he is infatuated with. Don't waste time, I wanted to scream as I read, but he struggles any young lover would, despite being tied to a carriage and immobilized in a body cast. The second is the absurdity, that, given the year of Blecher's death (1938), he would never see the war which would focus the entire world myopically on an infection of its own and that, if he hadn't died of tuberculosis, as a Romanian jew, he would likely not have lived but a few more years.
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