Calling from Italy

Cell phoneThis evening I went to see a minor league baseball game here in our town. I noticed that just like major league baseball, though they would surely not admit it, there is a tacit recognition that it’s a pretty boring game for most people. Thus they have incorporated the giant screen and various silly games to try to entertain spectators.

At one point I looked up at the giant screen and saw the phrase Nookie Monster. I didn’t catch what it was about, just saw that phrase, and I thought Holy shit, Nookie Monster? Whoever put that up certainly uses a different slang from the one I use. Where I come from you could sell tickets to that. I’d probably buy one.

Later in the game, the camera was turned on the spectators, with the phrase “Kiss Cam” on the giant screen, so that any couple who appeared on screen was supposed to kiss. As I watched, no one agreed to provide us with cheap entertainment, so the camera kept moving. Finally it was aimed into one of the dugouts at two of the players, and people laughed. When I saw this, I was thinking that it was more evidence (as if more was needed) that the conservatives have already lost in their frantic opposition to gay equality. And thank God for that. When a small-town minor league baseball game can make a gay joke, and people laugh, then go back to their popcorn, the conservatives have already lost, they just don’t know it yet. All the way through history, every moment that led to an increase in human freedom and potential, conservatives were standing there bewailing the collapse of society. Get rid of the King? Never. Give women the vote? Absolutely not. Allow gays to marry? In the long run, they have always lost. In the long run, they always will.

But that’s not actually what I came here to talk about. I got off topic, because it’s my blog and I can. I wanted to talk about quantum mechanics. I don’t really understand quantum mechanics, but then neither do the people who are experts at it. I kind of like that. A field of knowledge where you can be ignorant and still pontificate? Man, sign me up!

One thing I’ve picked up from my readings about quantum mechanics is the idea that multiple potential realities exist. They say this is true. Physicists say it. And only one of those realities becomes “real” because of our consciousness of it. Think about that a couple of ways.

So here we are in modern times, and…well,  actually, we’re always in modern times. So here we are in quantum times, with an awareness of the scrambled, multiplicitous nature of reality, and it isn’t even real. How the hell do you write about that? Like James Joyce? Like Audrey Niffenegger? Back in 1999, Sarah Dunant published Mapping the Edge, about Anna, who goes to Italy and disappears. One of two possible things happens to her, and in the book we read alternating chapters about both possibilities.

I don’t want to speak for Dunant and say that she intended the sort of smarty pants interpretation I’m making here. Maybe she didn’t intend to get all quantumy and abstract. It may simpy be that she had a stunning idea that just happened to illustrate an idea from modern physics.

If all we had in this book were the two alternate realities, we would have alternating chapters telling different stories, but it would be a much less striking book, and maybe it wouldn’t even work very well. What gives the two possible stories an edge is that both are interacting with events back in London, where Anna is from. The book is not entirely dependent on the reader to consider whether one story is true and the other false. The two stories are written in such a way that either of them could produce the interactions that happen with people back home, where the people who love Anna wonder what has happened to her.

Dunant is also a good enough story teller in this book that either of the alternate stories on its own would make an interesting, if more ordinary, novel. Maybe other people have used the technique Dunant uses here, but so what if they have? It’s hard for me to imagine that anyone could have done a better job with it.

At the level of style, or intelligent observations of life, this is also a very entertaining book, but it is the remarkable plot device that makes it compelling. I won’t spoil it by saying what happens. In any case, maybe the reality changes depending on the reader.

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