I was working though the Blood Sister: One Tough Nun section* yesterday (pg 701-714), when I rolled over this paragraph on page 706:
What’s intriguing but unknown to everyone in V.R. 6 is the way Boone’s take on Himself’s take on the substitution-of-one-crutch-for-another interpretation of substituting Catholic devotion for chemical dependence is very close to the way many not-yet-desperate-enough newcomers to Boston AA see Boston AA as just an exchange of slavish dependence on the bottle/pipe for slavish dependence on meetings and banal shibboleths and robotic piety, an ‘Attitude of Platitude,’ and use this idea that it’s still slavish dependence as an excuse to stop trying Boston AA, and to go back to the original slavish Substance-dependence, until that dependence has finally beaten them into such a double-bound desperation that they finally come back in with their faces hanging off their skulls and beg to be told just what platitudes to shout, and how high to adjust their vacant grins.
I think this is the first time the kids at the tennis academy are slammed up against the residents of the halfway house like this–symbolically speaking, that is. But instead of me dwelling on this symbolic unification of the two main threads of IJ, it triggered me to work through why Canelli loves the tennis academy portions with Hal while I much prefer Don Gately’s story. And I think I’ve got it.
The tennis academy, with JOI and Hal’s inability to feel**, is a purely theoretical place, a place of the mind (heh, you know, the place where you go to microwave your brain), where the halfway house is a place of the heart, a place where you give up thinking and just want “to be told just what platitudes to shout, and how high to adjust [your] vacant grins.” Now, this is probably obvious the first time you see one or the other much earlier in the book, but given our separate preferences, what does this say about Canelli versus Fuller?
Actually, don’t read too much into that. I think I’ve started to understand my own fascination with Gately and the halfway house. I think it’s because, in some weird way, I liken them to creatures found at the bottom of the ocean, existing in the most unforgiving environments. The halfway house residents are extremophiles of addiction and recovery: how much can “we” take away from a human, how base can “we” make their existence? What happens to a person who’s given a single rock to cling to in the middle of a roiling ocean? And, in some way, I’ve started to think of these characters as some sort of pinnacle of evolution: JOI couldn’t cut it, so he demapped himself; but Gately found a way to survive and flourish in this environment.
Well, that is, flourish up until those Nucks came round looking for Lenz.
* One of my favorite sections in the book, by the way.
** Page 696:
Hal himself hasn’t had a bona fide intensity-of-interior-life-type emotion since he was tiny; he finds terms like joie and value to be like so many variables in rarified equations, and he can manipulate them well enough to satisfy everyone but himself that he’s in there, inside his own hull, as a human being — but in fact he’s far more robotic than John Wayne.