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|Because Being Here Means So Much
By Guido Mina di Sospiro
Edited by Christopher Sinclair-Stevenson
|Why, when this short span of being could be spent
like the laurel (…)
do we have to be human and, avoiding fate,
long for fate?
Oh, not because happiness,
that quick profit of impending loss, really exists.
Nor out of curiosity, not just to exercise the heart
- that could be in the laurel, too…
but because being here means so much, and because all
that's here, vanishing so quickly, seems to need us
and strangely concerns us. (…) To have been,
once, even if only once,
to have been on earth just once - that's irrevocable
Rainer Maria Rilke's Ninth Duino Elegy
|At the age of thirty-three, Emily Emmet, a brilliant but self-effacing career woman, works as an in-house reader at a major New York publishing house, but her heart is crying out for more. She feels her biological clock ticking. On a whim, she writes and posts a letter to Santa Claus. All she wants for Christmas is… a husband. And, children, at least two.
In a sense, the letter is answered. In time, four "impossible loves", often intertwined, will torture her soul: Walter, her boss at the publishing house, who is not sure if he's straight or gay; Edward, her psychotherapist, a self-styled "neoarchaic" healer, and post-Jungian mythomaniac, who has been fostering her recently rediscovered talent for dreaming lucidly, causing the line between her dream- and waking life to become increasingly blurred; Ernest, a charming but evasive Italian nobleman whom she meets at his villa on Lake Como, and whose behavior veiled in mystery suggests he may be concealing a secret; finally, Ernest's young cousin from London, Rufus, a would-be Latinist who lives chiefly in the clouds. Although disparate and distant, such "impossible loves" have more in common than she could ever suspect.
The narrative unfolds from New York to Lake Como, in Northern Italy; from London to Tuscany; from bucolic Western Ireland to the steaming Florida Everglades-what do these places have in common? And what motivates Emily to travel from one such place to the next in search of her true love?
As Emily becomes more involved with Ernest, two strange and antithetical men whom he frequents begin to exert a strong influence on her. Don Mario, an American-born Catholic priest whose parish church is now on Lake Como; and the mysterious shaman of a native American tribe, the Miccosukee. The latter is a healer; the former, a healer no longer, but a man unable to distinguish between the cavils of canon law and the duties of one's conscience, or heart. Yet, Emily's Catholic upbringing compels her to trust the priest rather than the shaman. Eventually, she chances on a copy of the Codex Iuris Canonici, with an entry singled out from the Liber Septimus by Ernest. When part of his secret seems to be revealing itself, and as murder enters the scene, she realizes she has opened a Pandora's box.
Moreover, a phenomenon recorded since antiquity seems to have a significance impinging on Emily far beyond mere wonderment: almost two millennia ago both Plinies, the Elder and the Younger, became preoccupied with a little bubbling spring on a shore of Lake Como. From a letter by the younger Pliny one learns that "the spring, which rises in the mountain, and running among rocks is received into a little banqueting room," ebbed and flowed by regular amounts three times a day. But Pliny the Younger, who camped and dined beside it, drinking from its water, could not work out the nature of this phenomenon. The grand villa Pliniana was built around it in 1570, but is now abandoned and dilapidated. As Emily has a chance to witness, the strange phenomenon occurs to this day, and, what is more, its implications to her life become shockingly clear to her. Indeed, months before, when undergoing dream therapy with Edward, her analyst in New York, he had ordered her to commit suicide-in a dream. Her uncanny skills in lucid dreaming were compelling her to care only about her dream-life, which she had grown to love almost obsessively, while dangerously neglecting her waking life. A terrified Emily eventually managed to do just what her analyst had ordered: "As she swam, she began to feel progressively heavier. So heavy did she become, she sank to the bottom with the inert weight of lead. From the algae-infested bottom she looked up, and saw not the sky over the water's surface, but a waterfall, more water falling into the pond while she, helpless, her lungs filled with water, and incapable of moving, must die a ghastly, nightmarish death." (Chapter Nine, Part I.) Little did she know at the time that the pool was the one first mentioned by Pliny the Elder, now in the main courtyard of the abandoned villa Pliniana. Nor could she imagine that Ernest's wife had been found dead at its bottom.
When all collapses around Emily, be it in her oneiric or in her waking reality, and she thinks to have hit rock bottom, things do not get better, but worse.
And so, Emily's innocent and initially almost playful husband-hunting throws her in spite of herself into a murder mystery with such strong ontological overtones that both her dream- and waking life seem only capable to spiral her to her death. Her life is at stake, but risking it seems to be an inexorable rite of passage from which depends more than her own future happiness.
Not without ambivalence, in the end even good luck does not seem to come without its counterweight…