some thoughts – hang in there, this is going to be a long one…

The temperature needs to stop fluctuating in this house. It was freezing in the basement, cold on the main floor, and cool upstairs. So I turned on the heat. Now it is cozy in the basement, cool on the main floor, and warmish upstairs with the windows open. The heat is off. Damned strange thermostats.
Finished Life of Pi just now – more thoughts on that in a second, but first some musings on Amazon. I clicked through to look at some of the reviews on Life of Pi and was amused at a lot of things.

One: the other recommended books – specifically Middlesex and The Lovely Bones. Middlesex? I suppose these associations are fairly arbitrarily chosen based on purchase history – but seeing these three (somewhat) recent reads lumped together was odd. Also odd to see my old friend Chuck linked as a similar and recommended author. Never would’ve seen that one coming.
Two: the review by Alex Constantin. He comments that while he immediately understood why, say, The God of Small Things won the Booker, he didn’t have that same experience with Life of Pi. I’m still puzzling through that myself – a lot to process – but I can definitely understand the comment because I had that experience with Middlesex and the Pulitzer. Haha, a connection! I finished Middlesex and said – what? I suppose it’s one that bears a rereading because the inherent value of the work didn’t occur to me until much later – but I don’t think I can bring myself to do it. I’m still puzzling over Life of Pi but as there isn’t as much, well, bizarreness, I think it will merit a second read. Again, still processing.
And I suppose my thoughts on Pi can be divided into two parts – the religious and the fictional aspects. I think maybe that’s why I’m confused about the award-winning – because (at least in my mind) the book starts off as one thing and ends as something entirely different. Pi’s conversions were wonderful and thought-provoking, especially having just finished And It Was Good. In And It Was Good, Madeleine L’Engle embraces her agnosticism:

“I reply, joyfully, that I am still an agnostic, but then I was an unhappy one, seeking finite answers, and now I am a happy one, rejoicing in paradox. Agnostic means only that we do not know, and we finite creatures cannot know, in any intellectual or ultimate way, the infinite Lord, the undivided Trinity. Now I am able to accept my not-knowing – and rey, in a completely different way, in the old biblical way, I also know what I do not understand, and that is what my agnosticism means to me now. It does not mean that I do not believe; it is an acceptance that I am created, that I am asked to bear the light, knowing that this is the most wonderful of all vocations.”

Compare that to Pi: “To choose doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation.” Hmm. I understand both sides – and where they intersect. I’m wondering if I’m more attuned to this portion of Pi because of just finishing L’Engle. Either way – I found that interesting. Pi’s confrontation with the “three wise men” also reminded me of L’Engle – he and his parents meet with a priest, an imam, and a pandit – Pi has recently become a devotee of all three religions. Rather than discussing the ways this faith – this beautiful love of God and God alone, no matter the name – is admirable or unique or even just weird – they attack each other. Rather than admitting that this boy sees the ways that loving God intersects, no matter the name you’ve chosen for him – they resort to name-calling and finger-pointing – which only proves Pi’s faith as being the more authentic. L’Engle discusses faith and the nature of faith in terms of scientific knowledge, stating that the more we argue a point, the more we’re sure we’re right and are intractable in that belief – the more we are limiting God, God’s truth, God’s love and infinity. We do not need to prove God – or protect God – from or to anyone, any more than Pi would have benefited from arguing his “case” to the wise men. Faith just – is. Beautiful.
But the fiction? I don’t know. I read Pi quickly – in a few hours over the last two days – and perhaps I missed something. Back to Constantin’s review – I found the end unsatisfying, though surprising. What is real? What was real? The pedantic answer is, duh, none of it’s real – but characters this invested with life possess some reality, even if it ends when you close the book. The other story? It is much easier to believe – but it also divests the narrative as a whole of its weight while raising questions not easily answered (see above). If the other story is the true one, the psychological ramifications are more interesting but the survival aspect is lessened. It will be interesting to reread Pi with the knowledge of the other story – to see how it influences interpretation the second time around.
So – I liked it, but I’m dissatisfied. I enjoyed the religious discussions at the beginning and was disappointed that this particular element was not carried through to the end – though I suppose agnosticism is. You’re given a brilliant narrative – and then at the last moment, the rug is pulled out from under you – and you’re given a choice: faith or doubt. At least you know that bananas float. If you’ve read Pi, I’d be really interested to hear your comments on this and the novel as a whole.

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