Stranger on a Train – Jenny Diski

It has been a few months.

You will all be happy to note that I am now married. Yes, that’s right, I’ve made an honest man out of him. No longer will his friends look at him in askance, wondering aloud if I’d ever buy the cow when I could get the milk for free.

You will also be happy to note that I am now a resident of New York City, something I never thought I’d say. I thought I’d be a Los Angeles girl for life. I mean, I am, but I’m now a Los Angeles girl living in Brooklyn.

Have I given up my travel-reading ways, abandoned my book project, and started an indie coffee shop/vintage clothes store? No, dear reader, I have not.

With that really subtle segue…

I deviated from my orderly reading assignments–terrible of me–because my husband and I decided to move across the country via train, giving me almost three days of bumpy leisure. What better time, then, to read Jenny Diski’s Stranger on a Train?

Trying to figure out how to start this.

If you have read all of my blogs–which of course you have–then you know that I believe that one should enjoy spending time “traveling” around with a travelogue’s author. Being in their head and beside them as they go about their adventures. One should like the author, trust them, and so on.

I never trusted Diski.

This does not mean that I didn’t enjoy the book. The book was interesting, engaging, and full of all sorts of stories into a world that I don’t inhabit (namely: the smoking section in a train car). She was insightful, intelligent, and thoughtful, her prose engaging and well-wrought.

But I never liked her, even though I liked much of what she said. She made me uneasy, like I never quite knew if she was telling the truth about things, about people. She seemed skittish and dodgy, slightly detached from the world–and not entirely of her own volition.

I don’t know if I’ll read this book again. Yes, I believe that I should do things that make me uncomfortable. And, yes, I could probably stand to read it a few times to pinpoint exactly what it is that rubs my fur backwards.

But there are so many books to read.

Some quotes, as always, for your reading pleasure:

“I didn’t want to lose this man, this friend who made it so easy to be a friend, to oblivion. He made a place for himself in my memory, but I didn’t want to lose my place in his. Death is always about the loss of self, even when it’s someone else’s death.”

“Somehow a string of hopeless drunks and wishful thinkers who conceived of me as a route back to life or included me in passing on their journey in the other direction. And I was moved by their intentions, their hopelessness, their existential necessity, their self-destructiveness. Each time, I forgot for a moment what I already knew. Maybe this could work, I’d think, as I never thought about sober, reliable lovers. Though the fact that none of them could ever work must have been the real attraction. Eventually, I stopped doing that, because, perhaps, I no longer needed other people’s desperate daydreams to animate my life.”

“Part of what alarmed me about the mass of individual stories was that they so conformed to stereotype. It was as if each story illustrated the old cliche that there are no more than ten set pieces about how lives are lived. What discouraged was the similarity of the stories, the repetition of the basic forms. Here’s this one, now that one. Only a handful, really, with rather fewer variations than you would expect. You listen to them and think,is there nothing new, why doesn’t anything change, what has been learned over the centuries of the same stories being told over and over? It’s true that some are magnificently styled as literature or art or music, others staccato statements of one thing following the next, stoical, heroic even, yet others are whines of self-pity, blind lack of insight. There exists a whole range of possible tellings, but just a small range of individual narratives.”