“Some of these stories are closer to my own life than others are, but not one of them is as close as people seem to think.” Alice Murno, from the intro to Moons of Jupiter

"Talent hits a target no one else can hit; genius hits a target no one else can see." Arthur Schopenhauer

“Why does everything you know, and everything you’ve learned, confirm you in what you believed before? Whereas in my case, what I grew up with, and what I thought I believed, is chipped away a little and a little, a fragment then a piece and then a piece more. With every month that passes, the corners are knocked off the certainties of this world: and the next world too. Show me where it says, in the Bible, ‘Purgatory.’ Show me where it says ‘relics, monks, nuns.’ Show me where it says ‘Pope.’” –Thomas Cromwell imagines asking Thomas More—Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

My favorite posts to get started: The Self-Righteousness Instinct, Sabbath Says, Encounters, Inc., and What Makes "Wolf Hall" so Great?.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Sweet Tooth is a Strange Loop: An Aid to Some of the Dimmer Reviewers of Ian McEwan's New Novel

(I've done my best to avoid spoilers.)
            Anytime a character in Ian McEwan’s new novel Sweet Tooth enthuses about a work of literature, another character can be counted on to come along and pronounce that same work dreadful. So there’s a delightful irony in the declaration at the end of a silly review in The Irish Independent, which begins by begrudging McEwan his “reputation as the pulse-taker of the social and political Zeitgeist,” that the book’s ending “might be enough to send McEwan acolytes scurrying back through the novel to see how he did it, but it made me want to throw the book out the window.” Citing McEwan’s renown among the reading public before gleefully launching into critiques that are as difficult to credit as they are withering seems to be the pattern. The notice in The Economist, for instance, begins,
At 64, with a Hollywood film, a Man Booker prize and a gong from the queen, Ian McEwan has become a grand old man of British letters. Publication of his latest novel, “Sweet Tooth”, was announced on the evening news. A reading at the Edinburgh book festival was introduced by none other than the first minister, Alex Salmond.
But, warns the unnamed reviewer, “For all the attendant publicity, ‘Sweet Tooth’ is not Mr. McEwan’s finest book.” My own personal take on the novel—after seeking out all the most negative reviews I could find (most of them are positive)—is that the only readers who won’t appreciate it, aside from the reviewers who can’t stand how much the reading public celebrates McEwan’s offerings, are the ones whose prior convictions about what literature is and what it should do blind them to even the possibility that a novel can successfully operate on as many levels as McEwan folds into his narrative. For these readers, the mere fact of an author’s moving from one level to the next somehow invalidates whatever gratification they got from the most straightforward delivery of the story.
              At the most basic level, Sweet Tooth is the first-person account of how Serena Frome is hired by MI5 and assigned to pose as a representative for an arts foundation offering the writer Thomas Haley a pension that will allow him to quit his teaching job so he can work on a novel. The book’s title refers to the name of a Cold War propaganda initiative to support authors whose themes Serena’s agency superiors expect will bolster the cause of the Non-Communist Left. Though Sweet Tooth is fictional, there actually were programs like it that supported authors like George Orwell. Serena is an oldest-sibling type, with an appreciation for the warm security of established traditions and longstanding institutions, along with an attraction for and eagerness to please authority figures. These are exactly the traits that lead to her getting involved in the project of approaching Tom under false pretenses, an arrangement which becomes a serious dilemma for her as the two begin a relationship and she falls deeper and deeper in love with him. Looking back on the affair at the peak of the tension, she admits,
For all the mess I was in, I didn’t know how I could have done things differently. If I hadn’t joined MI5, I wouldn’t have met Tom. If I’d told him who I worked for at our very first meeting—and why would I tell a stranger that?—he would’ve shown me the door. At every point along the way, as I grew fonder of him, then loved him, it became harder, riskier to tell him the truth even as it became more important to do so. (266)
This plot has many of the markings of genre fiction, the secret-burdened romance, the spy thriller. But even on this basic level there’s a crucial element separating the novel from its pulpier cousins; the stakes are actually quite low. The nation isn’t under threat. No one’s life is in danger. The risks are only to jobs and relationships.
            James Lasdun, in an otherwise favorable review for The Guardian, laments these low stakes, suggesting that the novel’s early references to big political issues of the 1970s lead readers to the thwarted expectation of more momentous themes. He writes,
I couldn't help feeling like Echo in the myth when Narcissus catches sight of himself in the pool. “What about the IRA?” I heard myself bleating inwardly as the book began fixating on its own reflection. What about the PLO? The cold war? Civilisation and barbarity? You promised!
But McEwan really doesn’t make any such promise in the book’s opening. Lasdun simply makes the mistake of anticipating Sweet Tooth will be more like McEwan’s earlier novel Saturday. In fact, the very first lines of the book reveal what the main focus of the story will be:
My name is Serena Frome (rhymes with plume) and almost forty years ago I was sent on a secret mission for the British Security Service. I didn’t return safely. Within eighteen months of joining I was sacked, having disgraced myself and ruined my lover, though he certainly had a hand in his own undoing. (1)
That “I didn’t return safely” sets the tone—overly dramatic, mock-heroic, but with a smidgen of self-awareness that suggests she’s having some fun at her own expense. Indeed, all the book’s promotional material referring to her as a spy notwithstanding, Serena is more of a secretary or a clerk than a secret agent. Her only field mission is to offer funds to a struggling writer, not exactly worthy of Ian Fleming.
            When Lasdun finally begins to pick up on the lighthearted irony and the over all impish tone of the novel, his disappointment has him admitting that all the playfulness is enjoyable but longing nonetheless for it to serve some greater end. Such longing betrays a remarkable degree of obliviousness to the fact that the final revelation of the plot actually does serve an end, a quite obvious one. Lasdun misses it, apparently because the point is moral as opposed to political. A large portion of the novel’s charm stems from the realization, which I’m confident most readers will come to early on, that Sweet Tooth, for all the big talk about global crises and intrigue, is an intimately personal story about a moral dilemma and its outcomes—at least at the most basic level. The novel’s scope expands beyond this little drama by taking on themes that present various riddles and paradoxes. But whereas countless novels in the postmodern tradition have us taking for granted that literary riddles won’t have answers and plot paradoxes won’t have points, McEwan is going for an effect that’s much more profound.
            The most serious criticism I came across was at the end of the Economist review. The unnamed critic doesn’t appreciate the surprise revelation that comes near the end of the book, insisting that afterward, “it is hard to feel much of anything for these heroes, who are all notions and no depth.” What’s interesting is that the author presents this not as an observation but as a logical conclusion. I’m aware of how idiosyncratic responses to fictional characters are, and I accept that my own writing here won’t settle the issue, but I suspect most readers will find the assertion that Sweet Tooth’s characters are “all notion” absurd. I even have a feeling that the critic him or herself sympathized with Serena right up until the final chapter—as the critic from The Irish Independent must have. Why else would they be so frustrated as to want to throw the book out of the window? Several instances of Serena jumping into life from the page suggest themselves for citation, but here’s one I found particularly endearing. It comes as she’s returning to her parents’ house for Christmas after a long absence and is greeted by her father, an Anglican Bishop, at the door: 
“Serena!” He said my name with a kindly, falling tone, with just a hint of mock surprise, and put his arms about me. I dropped my bag at my feet and let myself be enfolded, and as I pressed my face into his shirt and caught the familiar scent of Imperial Leather soap, and of church—of lavender wax—I started to cry. I don’t know why, it just came from nowhere and I turned to water. I don’t cry easily and I was as surprised as he was. But there was nothing I could do about it. This was the copious hopeless sort of crying you might hear from a tired child. I think it was his voice, the way he said my name, that set me off. (217)
This scene reminds me of when I heard my dad had suffered a heart attack several years ago: even though at the time I was so pissed off at the man I’d been telling myself I’d be better off never seeing him again, I barely managed two steps after hanging up the phone before my knees buckled and I broke down sobbing—so deep are these bonds we carry on into adulthood even when we barely see our parents, so shocking when their strength is made suddenly apparent. (Fortunately, my dad recovered after a quintuple bypass.)
Douglas Hofstadter
            But, if the critic for the Economist concluded that McEwan’s characters must logically be mere notions despite having encountered them as real people until the end of the novel, what led to that clearly mistaken deduction? I would be willing to wager that McEwan shares with me a fondness for the writing of the computational neuroscientist Douglas Hofstadter, in particular Gödel, Escher, Bach and I am a Strange Loop, both of which set about arriving at an intuitive understanding of the mystery of how consciousness arises from the electrochemical mechanisms of our brains, offering as analogies several varieties of paradoxical, self-referencing feedback loops, like cameras pointing at the TV screens they feed into. What McEwan has engineered—there’s no better for word for it—with his novel is a multilevel, self-referential structure that transforms and transcends its own processes and premises as it folds back on itself.
            One of the strange loops Hofstadter explores, M.C. Escher’s 1960 lithograph Ascending and Descending, can give us some helpful guidance in understanding what McEwan has done. If you look at the square staircase in Escher’s lithograph a section at a time, you see that each step continues either ascending or descending, depending on the point of view you take. And, according to Hofstadter in Strange Loop,
A person is a point of view—not only a physical point of view (looking out of certain eyes in a certain physical space in the universe), but more importantly a psyche’s point of view: a set of hair-trigger associations rooted in a huge bank of memories. (234)
Importantly, many of those associations are made salient with emotions, so that certain thoughts affect us in powerful ways we might not be able to anticipate, as when Serena cries at the sound of her father’s voice, or when I collapsed at the news of my father’s heart attack. These emotionally tagged thoughts form a strange loop when they turn back on the object, now a subject, doing the thinking. The neuron forms the brain that produces the mind that imagines the neuron, in much the same way as each stair in the picture takes a figure both up and down the staircase. What happened for the negative reviewers of Sweet Tooth is that they completed a circuit of the stairs and realized they couldn’t possibly have been going up (or down), even though at each step along the way they were probably convinced.
            McEwan, interviewed by Daniel Zalewski for the New Yorker in 2009, said, “When I’m writing I don’t really think about themes,” admitting that instead he follows Nabokov’s dictum to “Fondle details.”
Writing is a bottom-up process, to borrow a term from the cognitive world. One thing that’s missing from the discussion of literature in the academy is the pleasure principle. Not only the pleasure of the reader but also of the writer. Writing is a self-pleasuring act.
The immediate source of pleasure then for McEwan, and he probably assumes for his readers as well, comes at the level of the observations and experiences he renders through prose. Sweet Tooth is full of great lines like, “Late October brought the annual rite of putting back the clocks, tightening the lid of darkness over our afternoons, lowering the nation’s mood further” (179). But McEwan would know quite well that writing is also a top-down process; at some point themes and larger conceptual patterns come into play. In his novel Saturday, the protagonist, a neurosurgeon named Henry Perowne, is listening to Angela Hewitt’s performance of Bach’s strangely loopy “Goldberg” Variations. He writes,
Well over an hour has passed, and Hewitt is already at the final Variation, the Quodlibet—uproarious and jokey, raunchy even, with its echoes of peasant songs of food and sex. The last exultant chords fade away, a few seconds’ silence, then the Aria returns, identical on the page, but changed by all the variations that have come before. (261-2)
Just as an identical Aria or the direction of ascent or descent in an image of stairs can be transformed  by a shift in perspective, details about a character, though they may be identical on the page, can have radically different meanings, serve radically different purposes depending on your point of view.
            Though in the novel Serena is genuinely enthusiastic about Tom’s fiction, the two express their disagreements about what constitutes good literature at several points. “I thought his lot were too dry,” Serena writes, “he thought mine were wet” (183). She likes sentimental endings and sympathetic characters; he admires technical élan. Even when they agree that a particular work is good, it’s for different reasons: “He thought it was beautifully formed,” she says of a book they both love, “I thought it was wise and sad” (183). Responding to one of Tom’s stories that features a talking ape who turns out never to have been real, Serena says,
I instinctively distrusted this kind of fictional trick. I wanted to feel the ground beneath my feet. There was, in my view, an unwritten contract with the reader that the writer must honor. No single element of an imagined world or any of its characters should be allowed to dissolve on authorial whim. The invented had to be as solid and as self-consistent as the actual. This was a contract founded on mutual trust. (183)
A couple of the reviewers suggested that the last chapter of Sweet Tooth revealed that Serena had been made to inhabit precisely the kind of story that she’d been saying all along she hated. But a moment’s careful reflection would have made them realize this isn’t true at all. What’s brilliant about McEwan’s narrative engineering is that it would satisfy the tastes of both Tom and Serena. Despite the surprise revelation at the end—the trick—not one of the terms of Serena’s contract is broken. The plot works as a trick, but it also works as an intimate story about real people in a real relationship. To get a taste of how this can work, consider the following passage:
Tom promised to read me a Kingsley Amis poem, “A Bookshop Idyll,” about men’s and women’s divergent tastes. It went a bit soppy at the end, he said, but it was funny and true. I said I’d probably hate it, except for the end. (175)
The self-referentiality of the idea makes of it a strange loop, so it can be thought of at several levels, each of which is consistent and solid, but none of which captures the whole meaning.
            Sweet Tooth is a fun novel to read, engrossing and thought-provoking, combining the pleasures of genre fiction with some of the mind-expanding thought experiments of some of the best science writing. The plot centers on a troubling but compelling moral dilemma, and, astonishingly, the surprise revelation at the end actually represents a solution to this dilemma. I do have to admit, however, that I agree with the Economist that it’s not McEwan’s best novel. The conceptual plot devices bear several similarities with those in his earlier novel Atonement, and that novel is much more serious, its stakes much higher. Sweet Tooth is nowhere near as haunting as Atonement. But it doesn’t need to be.


Also read: Let's Play Kill Your Brother: Fiction as a Moral Dilemma Game.

And: Life's White Machine: James Wood and What Doesn't Happen in Fiction. 

Friday, November 9, 2012

Someone's Trying to Tell You Something: The Opening to the Story I'm Working on

            The driver of every third vehicle you pass in Woodcliffe will wave. The residents don’t exactly appear friendly so much as they always look to be in a pleasant mood. Away from the roads, along which runs nary a sidewalk, you may on occasion hear the fractured echo of playing children’s voices, but the new-growth forest elbowing its way into the leftovers of the three-decade-old development produces for each house an uncanny simulacrum of a lonely cabin in the woods. The tires of all the overpriced, oversized trucks on the meticulously paved dark roads send out nothing more than a muted whoosh, barely distinguishable from a high wind passing through the crowded tree tops. Once in your driveway or garage, it’s easy to forget you have any neighbors at all. And all this just a twenty-minute drive from the city proper.
Being so disconnected must make them crazy, Ada thinks as she’s passing the second truck with an unwaving but pleasant driver since turning into Woodcliffe. Or they were crazy before and the hushed isolation simply allows them space to preserve their craziness, like so many exoticisms in a museum. To anyone visiting Fort Wayne from a real city, these exurban short-distance commuters, well-to-do by local standards, are offputtingly self-impressed, obnoxiously oblivious, and bewilderingly silly. A community of kingly dunces. But more than anything else, what they are is stagnant. They may as well be living in the dark ages—the way they think anyway.
Just after making the first of the two turns before reaching her father’s home—or what was formerly her father’s home—Ada sees a red hybrid approaching in the opposite lane. It’s not until this car has outdistanced her mirrors on the road behind her that she realizes she answered the driver’s smile and wave with the look she’s picked up from her years in the city, the one that says, “My time is too important to spend greeting strangers—the only reason you’re even seeing me now is that they haven’t invented an invisibility cloak yet.” 
The annoyance comes to her in what seems to be a regular cycle of emotions. Next will come the panic, which attaches itself to thoughts about her lame job, her pathetic love life, and the precarious situation with her age. After that will be amusement tinged with impatience, which will gradually shade back into annoyance. All conveniently removed from any encounter with the reality of her father’s death. Will that come later, she wonders, perhaps with a vengeance?
Each of these emotions pulls along a tethered line of thought. For the annoyance, it’s the effort to parse a phrase she’s been picking at the meaning of for the past couple weeks: “Someone’s trying to tell you something.” Ever since picking up the rental car from the Fort Wayne International Airport—or more specifically since reaching down to move the seat up and feeling slightly nauseated by the artificial reek of newness (waxy, citrus, musk) oozing out of the meticulously scrubbed interior, she’s been compulsively repeating the expression and being disappointed in herself for its ever having entered her mind.
Outside the car, the preternaturally oppressive heat hangs in a dusty gold haze over the trees, choking the blue sky in a sticky imitation of big city smog. The someone, Ada thinks, must be God. Or fate. Or some other guiding spirit. Trying to tell me what? What I’m supposed to do, how I’m supposed to live, what I’m supposed to pay attention to? The saying had surged through her mind with bizarre urgency the moment Ada pressed the button to end the call informing her that her father had passed. (Just some official using a quaint formalism that. Passed from this world to the next, that expression was easy enough to parse—if a bit presumptuous.)
            Ada was approaching her dad’s house for the second time in as many weeks. The first had been for the funeral. Now she was going back to inventory his belongings, oversee the movers who were coming tomorrow to box it all up and haul it away, and meet with the real estate agent. The flight, and now the drive, are affording her an abundance of time to contemplate why she, not even religious enough to pronounce herself an atheist, would have a thought like “Someone’s trying to tell you something” commandeer her mind upon hearing the news of her dad’s demise. His death. Two weeks before she got that news a drug store pregnancy test had given her some news of its own. Someone was trying to tell her something—but who was trying to tell her what?
The darkening of the sky that comes into view over the trees as she turns onto her dad’s street finally distracts her. She hasn’t exactly been enjoying the topic of her thoughts, and she prides herself on being able to avoid topics she doesn’t like.
            There’s something achingly pleasant about reminiscing, she thinks now as she tries to calculate the speed of the oncoming clouds. Ada, as a rule, does her best to avoid reliving her past because it causes as much displeasure as delight—that bittersweet tug of nostalgia, stroking the defenseless nerve of cherished memory, oh, with innocence and the charm of the undiscovered fresh untrammeled world and all that, but with the tragedy of loss and disappointment woven into the very texture of remembering.
            Ada, reflecting on how it wasn’t always necessary to search her mind for her present age, reminds herself that the scales were tipped against dwelling on any of those precious scenes from her early years when she began experiencing the added throb of having to measure the distance between them and the present. God, how long ago was it…? Twenty-seven years! Just ten years ago it was unimaginable that I’d ever be older than twenty-seven; now I’m taking twenty-seven-year-spanning trips down memory lane. Jesus. But the temptation over the weekend to ruminate on lost childhood memories is probably going to be sufficiently overwhelming to warrant a moratorium on the rule.
The funeral was, what, a week ago now. A week. A blink. She tries calling up the events of the days between when she stood in the cemetery and when she got on the second plane. Sunday I was here, at the church, then staring at that gaudy, god-awful coffin—you picked it out stupid ass!—feeling as disconnected from all the people, family, standing in half embraces with trundling tears on their cheeks, feeling as disconnected from them, strangers, as they seemed from the rest of the world. Small town in a big world. Still, they get all the newspapers and magazines, the same TV shows—nowhere is really disconnected, not in this country. Most of the people here seem pretty backward though. I guess they choose, insofar as anyone chooses where they end up, a place where life is less hurried and hectic. Less crowded and anonymous. Where homes are cheaper and you don’t have to be rich rich to feel rich.
            Called to the church podium to commemorate her dad, Ada gave the assembled rows of familiar strangers the obligatory story that showed just how he was—and that his way of being was really great and left an indelible mark and all that. “A few years ago now—I really can’t remember how many—I talked to my dad about all the disappointment that attends settling into middle adulthood. You know, how when you’re young it’s all but impossible to make any decisions because the possibilities are infinite and choosing just one path for yourself inevitably comes with this foreboding sense that you’re reducing your future to some miniscule share of life’s potential. That was the kind of dad he was—I could get all highfalutin with my dreary complaints and he’d never bat an eye.
            “And I’ll never forget what he said to me after he listened to me complain for like an hour. ‘You know,’ he says, ‘a lot of people feel the way you do—that adulthood is all about disappointment and foreclosed on potential. But the older I get the more pleasant surprises I find waiting in store.’” She paused, as if to search her memory or calm an upwelling of emotion. “He said, ‘Just imagine all those possibilities, all those doors of opportunity slammed shut—and so many of them without you even making the decision to let them be shut, the opportunities you miss just by waiting too long or being too distracted. You marry one person and forsake all others. You choose one career and it defines you for the rest of your life. I mean, if you dwell on everything you’re missing out on in life you’ll be miserable. And no one wife or husband and no one job can possibly compete with all the fantasies you have about the infinity of people you might’ve been with, the whole gamut of professions you might have pursued.
            “‘But think about it,’ he tells me. ‘Not too many people go around miserable all the time. Sure, some do. The really amazing thing to me, though, is with all the missed opportunities, with all the squandered potential, with all the failures and all the crashing down to earth—I mean, think about it—it’s amazing everyone over thirty isn’t miserable. And we’re not. Most of the time, most of us are happy. I can’t speak for everyone, but let’s face it—I’m old. And yet I still wake up almost every day with things on my mind that I want to do, people I want to talk to, women I want to flirt with and fantasize about’”—chuckles from the pews because that was so what he was like—“‘books I want to read, places I want to visit. We all know our lives are bookended with sickness and pain, or if we’re lucky a gradual slide into oblivion. But it doesn’t stop us from living. Neither does the realization that we’ve reached adulthood and never had one of those storybook romances. We won’t ever be billionaires or sports stars or famous actors. You know, who cares? The pleasant surprise of getting old for me has been that all that stuff has started to seem really, extraordinarily flimsy. Not to mention exhausting. And meanwhile I live my life every day, looking forward to things like these phone calls with you.’”
Every last one of the assembled solemn heads fell silent as Ada stepped away from the lectern with her hand over her mouth. It really was a great tribute to the man, she thinks now. My old pops. Ha! And she made the whole thing up on the spot. Oh, she had toyed with a few ideas for good anecdotes she might tell. That’s what you’re expected to do at these things. But as she was walking up to the front of the church the feeling of disconnection, the sense that this was all theater anyway, these weren’t real people anymore, not to her, nor was she properly real to them, it all conspired to put her in a mind-space for saying whatever sounded good. Wasn’t it all for the sake of appearances and social functionality—so what could it matter?
            Still, it’s pretty shocking that she hasn’t thought about it till now, the fact that she lied. It wasn’t even close to the truth, she thinks. I lied my ass off. They all laughed about the flirting and fantasizing line—it was rather inspired, if I do say so myself—as if it captured the essence of the man so perfectly. Mom left when I was eight and I never heard him so much as mention another woman. Not that I knew him all that well, especially after I left for school. There was never any such routine as a weekly phone call that would have given him a chance to dispense his great accumulated wisdom. (Another missed opportunity?) I totally lied and yet a year from now I’ll probably remember the speech itself much more vividly than I’ll remember driving to his house and pondering the implications of having so brazenly lied. Bald-facedly. Through my teeth. But I had to make a speech and the lie served its function. People do it every day. 
            Pulling into the driveway, the annoyance, the hurried tension, dissipates all at once, almost as if she were happy to be returning home. But her train of thought leaves her doubting how much of what she remembers here is reliable. The most vivid images she can conjure come from the dreams about her brother, even though Dad’s been insisting for years (Dad insisted for years?) nothing even remotely like what happens in the dreams could’ve actually occurred.
The weird thing is that the dreams had already started again, after more than a decade without recurrence, even before she learned that her father was dead (someone trying to tell her something?) and began trying to anticipate all the tasks that would be required of her with regard to the funeral and the house. At least he died with some money. It would all have been much more complicated if there’d been no money. As for Ada, she wasn’t sure that her inheritance would mean a whole lot beyond not having to worry quite as much. I’ll still get up and go to my lame ass job every morning, she thinks. Maybe I’ll have enough after paying off my student loans and setting up a 401(k) to go on a trip somewhere. I’d have to pay Judy’s expenses too—unless I go alone. Taking Guy with me would defeat the whole purpose.
            A spreading inner warmth contends with the caldron of heat she opens the car door into as she stands, laughing softly, on numb feet and bloodless, tingling legs. Guy Saunders has one of those smiles that make you think the person is trying to exert all the muscles around his cheeks and jaw, a big meaty smile exposing big flesh-ripping teeth. He’s just so stupidly irresistible when he does those damn face workouts of his though. And he’s actually onto something, she thinks. It really does feel good to stretch your smile muscles; I’m just never happy quite as vigorously as Guy always seems to be.
            The dreams started up again the night Ada saw the plus sign on the pregnancy test. She tries to calculate how long ago it was that she experienced that particular shock. Dad died two weeks ago now. It would have been at least two weeks before that. Jesus. I’m probably two months pregnant. In a few weeks, I’ll be in my second trimester. Damn it—I have to make an appointment somewhere the minute I get off the plane back home. But where? How do you find a good place for something like that? Would it be listed in the yellow pages? Do I just Google it?
            Rolling her carry-on bag toward the garage whose machinery is locking itself into place and going dormant, wiping its hands with a tiny shudder after the completion of its one simple task in life, Ada feels a sudden chill and wonders if it prefigures the storm she’s been watching approach. Today is the last day of June, she thinks. I guess we might as well send it off with a bang. Anything that tags an event as significant appeals to her, as she finds ever more disturbing the tendency of time to slip away unheralded. You go to bed one night in June, and you wake up in July. A week later you have to logically deduce June ever happened. She leaves her bag standing at the edge of the garage before wandering down the driveway to try and get a better view of the sky.
            The heavy clouds are riding in on sudden gusts of a sort seldom encountered in a town like this. Ada is pleased too with the idea of a storm to mark the occasion of her final trip home, but the raging intensity of the wind, already blasting the uppermost branches of the trees around the house, already tossing about prickling droplets, and the precipitousness of the clouds’ takeover of the overheated blue sky are making her wonder if there might actually be cause for alarm.

Also read: Waking Up a Completely Different Person: From "Dr. McAdams' Method"