And another character who appears, so far as we can see, to have nothing to do with the main narrative; which, in the absence of any compelling alternative, is Hal and his tennis and his speech problems and his lexicographical obsessions. He’s an Arab-Canadian doctor and we don’t know his name, but it’s his birthday tomorrow. While we’re on the subject, do birthdays, or tomorrows for that matter, work the same way in this age of sponsored calendars? For the first time the whole process, “the promotional subsidy” is addressed, and mocked, especially when we realise that now it’s OK to desecrate national landmarks in the cause of consumer capitalism; although since Bartholdi’s birthday present to America has now be renamed “the Libertine Statue”, perhaps the damage was done ages ago.
Hang on. Töblerone? With an umlaut? Like Motörhead? I suppose if there are an infinite number of parallel universes there must be one that’s just like ours but with a few very tiny superficial differences; say, one where Mitt Romney has a moustache and Antwerp is the capital of Belgium and one or two confectionery brands have odd diacritics on their names but apart from that everything’s the same. Anyway, in case you were wondering about those entertainment cartridges...
The medical attaché, worn out by a long day tending to the prince’s yeast imbalance, wants to cast aside all responsibilities, decked out in his ironed bib and a feeding tray, absorbing the entertainment on offer. But he returns home unexpectedly early – having angered his petulant, monovore boss – and for once his silent, veiled wife (stereotype?) is not available. His wife is out and, left to his own devices, the attaché must make his own arrangements for entertainment and comes across an envelope from Phoenix, Arizona, containing an unmarked cartridge. I don’t know about you, but I’m thinking this isn’t a good move. Have you never seen Ring?
But what’s happening now? It’s a new year, but is this a new chapter? The type size says not, but that’s about the only clue we’re getting. So is it the content of the mysterious cartridge? Is this what the unnamed attaché is watching or hearing or reading, beginning at 1927h?
It’s definitely a new year, with a new sponsor. We’re in the world of Clenette, attempting to do what’s right amidst abuse and violence and non-conventional verb structures; another flavour of family dysfunction, more toxic than the Incandenzas’. (Is it placed here to put their own problems in context?) Some clarification needed; Wardine says that she and Clenette are half-sisters but they (presumably) have different mothers, so the shared parent must be the father, the errant brother of the homicidal paedophile Roy Tony. And who’s the father of Clenette’s own child? Not that it’s necessarily important because...
...suddenly we’re somewhere else (but presumably still in the same time, Dove Bar year). We’re with Bruce Green, whose problems are insignificant compared with Clenette’s, but don’t feel that. He’s “dreadfully in love with a classmate who had the unlikely name of Mildred Bonk”, who despite her name is blonde and gorgeous. (I don’t know what sort of girl should be called Mildred Bonk, though. I’m thinking someone sullen and dark-eyed and big-booted, pre-makeover Ally Sheedy in The Breakfast Club or Thora Birch in Ghost World, maybe. Just the sort of girl I would have fallen dreadfully in love with at Bruce’s age, in fact.) And then it all starts coming together, with another child and more drugs and then that’s it again.
- Do any of these people exist? Well no, duh, obviously, they don’t, this is fiction. But do any of them exist within the framing fiction that Wallace – for the moment at least – appears to have created, the one inhabited by Hal? Or are they just elements of stories related within that fiction?
- If they do exist, will they begin to meet, or otherwise interact? Or will they at least leave tiny traces in each other’s stories, like the characters in David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, which has been made into a movie, which I’m very much look forward to seeing, and completely dreading at the same time, if you get my drift.
- Without wanting to seem facetious (oh, perish the very thought), has it started yet?