Excerpt from 36 Arguments for the Existence of God by Rebecca Goldstein, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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36 Arguments for the Existence of God

A Work of Fiction

by Rebecca Goldstein

36 Arguments for the Existence of God
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2010, 416 pages
    Paperback:
    Feb 2011, 416 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Judy Krueger

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It’s 1 a.m. now for Lucinda. She’s taken the little amber bottle of Ambien with her—he’d checked their medicine cabinet round about 2 a.m.—so she’s down for seven and a half hours. She’ll be sleeping in T-shirt and shorts, her muscled legs—Lucinda competes in triathlons—probably already having fought their way clear of the bedclothes. Lucinda begins each night neatly tucked within her comforter, carefully placing her cold feet in the pockets, but no sooner is she asleep then the long struggle for freedom begins, and her legs are nightly manumitted.

For thirty-five weeks now, Cass has had the privilege of acquiring this intimacy of information regarding Lucinda Mandelbaum: her rituals of brushing and flossing and exfoliating and lotioning; the facts that she gets hiccoughs if she eats hard-boiled eggs too quickly and that her cold hands and feet are the result of Raynaud’s syndrome; that she had spent her junior year of college at Oxford and had acquired a taste for certain British products that she orders from a Web site called British Delights; that as a girl she had wanted to be either a concert pianist or Nancy Drew; that she sometimes makes a whole dinner of a product called Sticky Toffee Pudding, is mildly libertarian in her politics, and gasps always with the same sound of astonishment in lovemaking.

How is it that Cass Seltzer is intimate with the texture of Lucinda Mandelbaum’s life? His election—in that old crazy Calvinist sense, about which Cass knows more than a little—is absolute.

Suspended here above the ice-stilled Charles, he pictures Lucinda asleep, her mouth slightly open and her delicate eyelids fluttering in dreams—oh, make them happy!

She usually falls asleep before him, and the sight of her sleeping always wrenches his heart. All that mental power temporally suspended, her lashes reclining on the delicate curve of her high cheekbone, her fluffy ash-blond hair released from its daytime restraints and spread fragrant and soft on her Tempur-Pedic pillow. He sees the little girl she must have been. He sees the phantom child yet to be, materializing before his mind with her mother’s incandescent skin and hair, her gray eyes outlined in blue and lit with points of fierce intelligence. Watching Lucinda sleeping or absentmindedly playing with a strand of hair while she scratches out the esoteric symbols of her science, or leaving his front gate—with its sign left over from the previous owners, “Please close the gate, remember our children”—the force of the fantasy catches him off guard.

Nobody out there is keeping the books, of course, but maybe he’s earned the right to such happiness? Maybe the years he’d given up to mourning Pascale have paid out a retributive dividend? No. He knows better than to believe in such hocus-pocus, nothing else but more spilled religion.

Pascale’s absurd scarf mummying him up to his rimless glasses, he hadn’t thought much about where he would go at this hour and had headed straight for Harvard Square and then down to the river, and then up onto Weeks Bridge, dead center, which seems to be the spot that he’d been seeking.

The night is so cold that everything seems to have been stripped bare of superfluous existence, reduced to the purity of abstraction. Cass has the distinct impression that he can see better in the sharpened air, that the cold is counteracting the nearsightedness that has had him wearing glasses since he was twelve. He takes them off and, of course, can’t see a thing, can barely see past the nimbus phantom of his own breath.

But then he stares harder and it seems that he can see better, that the world has slid into sharper focus. It’s only now, with his glasses off, that he catches sight of the spectacle that the extreme cold has created in the river below, frozen solid except where it’s forced through the three arches of the bridge’s substructure, creating an effect that could reasonably be called sublime, and in the Kantian sense: not cozily beautiful, but touched by a metaphysical chill. The quickened water has sculpted three immense and perfect arches into the solid ice, soaring fifty or sixty feet to their apices, sublime almost as if by design. The surface of the water in the carved-out breaches is polished to obsidian, lustered to transparency against the white-blue gleam of the frozen encasement, and, perspective askew, the whole of it looks like a cathedral rising endlessly, the arches becoming windows opening out onto vistas of black.

Excerpted from 36 Arguments for the Existence of God by Rebecca Newberger Goldstein Copyright © 2010 by Rebecca Goldstein. Excerpted by permission of Pantheon, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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