I distinctly remember the point at which, in my reading life, I started to really give a shit about following everything in a book closely. As a teenager, I was often reading books that were kind of beyond my comprehension level, but at that point, the gist was good enough for me. I remember reading The Sound and the Fury in English class and when the teacher was talking about certain plot points, I was literally like “what? that happened? I swear I read every page and I didn’t see no castration scene nowheres!” I was not a skimmer, but if I missed something (like poor Benjy losing his dangles) I wasn’t really sweating it.
Then I got into a phase where I was reading a lot of Louise Erdrich books, and for the first time, I was hella into every last detail. This person relates to that person how? Oh, that character is referring to another event that happened peripherally in another novel? I loved all the threads hidden everywhere, and I even went so far as to make little diagrams of character relationships and events within and then across her books so I could keep track of it all. It was like I had been reading for impression up until that point, and then, all of a sudden: focus.
The History of Love by Nicole Krauss is the kind of book that makes my brain feel woken up in just that way again. It’s a book where you have to pay attention, where a detail here will come back around and show up there, where people who aren’t connected much at all will turn a corner into each other and all of a sudden you see: ah, they have been puzzle pieces all along.
Stories like this can either feel like a chore or a treat. There were times when I felt both of these feelings– the chore part in the middle, but the treat at the end. Ultimately I feel comforted by stories like this, because there is a feeling of orderliness in finishing. Good, bad, happy, or sad- things end up in their place, tied together, no matter how complicated everything seemed when you were slogging through all those freaking details midway through.
Also, I should mention, the story itself has lots of love and lots of loneliness, and by the end it got me right in my gut bone.