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Excerpt from Memories of the Future by Siri Hustvedt, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Memories of the Future

by Siri Hustvedt

Memories of the Future by Siri Hustvedt X
Memories of the Future by Siri Hustvedt
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2019, 336 pages

    Mar 2020, 336 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Norah Piehl
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The library is an American palace, built by Lenox and Astor money to show snooty European money that it had nothing on us. But I can say this: no one measured me up and down or gave me an intelligence test or checked my bank account before I walked through the door. In Webster, Minnesota, there were no truly rich people. We counted a few turkey farmers and store owners as wealthy, and doctors, dentists, lawyers, and professors, however modest their means, were given a class bounce by their years in school and were often resented by the poor farmers and mechanics and myriad others in and around town who had no letters after their names. But in New York, money was there to gawk at, money the likes of which I had never seen. It strolled down Fifth and Park Avenues, alone or in pairs, and it laughed and conversed behind the windows of restaurants at tables with wine bottles and pressed white linen napkins and low candles. It stepped out of taxis in shoes with soles that appeared never to have touched a sidewalk, and it slumped gracefully in the backseat of chauffeured limousines. It sparkled in displays of watches and earrings and scarves in stores I was too shy to enter. And I couldn't help but think of Jay Gatsby's beautiful shirts in many colors and stupid, empty Daisy, and the sad green light. And I thought of Balzac, too, how could one not, of the grubby, glittering human comedy and of Proust dining at the Ritz with the friends he robbed of their traits with such terrifying exactitude, and of Odette's "smart set," which is not so smart at all, vulgar, in fact, and I struggled to feel beyond it all, to be my own character, that noble, young if poor person with high, refined literary and philosophical tastes, but there was power in the money I saw, a brute force that frightened me and which I envied because it made me smaller and more pathetic to myself.

I am still in New York, but the city I lived in then is not the city I inhabit now. Money remains ascendant, but its glow has spread across the borough of Manhattan. The faded signs, tattered awnings, peeling posters, and filthy bricks that gave the streets of my old Upper West Side neighborhood a generally jumbled and bleary look have disappeared. When I find myself in the old haunts now, my eyes are met with the tightened outlines of bourgeois improvement. Legible signage and clean, clear colors have replaced the former visual murk. And the streets have lost their menace, that ubiquitous if invisible threat that violence might erupt at any instant and that a defensive posture and determined walk were not optional but necessary. In other parts of the city in 1978, one could adopt the ambling gait of the flaneur, but not there. Within a week, my senses had gained an acuity they had never needed before. I was ever alert to the sudden creak or whine or crack, to the abrupt gesture, unsteady walk, or leering expression of an approaching stranger, to an indefinable odor of something-not-quite-right that wafted here and there and made me hasten my steps or dodge into a bodega or Korean grocery.

I kept a journal that year. I found my hero in it, the homunculus of my traveling thoughts, and I tried out passages for his novel in the notebook. I doodled and drew and recorded at least some of my comings and goings and my conversations with others and with myself, but the black-and-white Mead composition book with its account of my former self disappeared not long after I had filled its pages. And then, three months ago, I found it packed neatly in a box of miscellany my mother had saved. I must have started another journal and left the old one behind me after a visit to my parents in the summer of 1979. When I spotted the slightly creased-at-one-corner notebook beneath a box of loose photographs with the absurd title My New Life handwritten on the cover, I greeted it as if it were a beloved relative I had given up for dead: first the gasp of recognition, then the embrace. Not until hours later did the image of myself clasping a notebook to my breast take on the ridiculous appearance it surely deserves. And yet, the little book of two hundred pages has been invaluable for the simple reason that it has brought back, to one degree or another, what I couldn't remember or had misremembered in a voice that is at once mine and not quite mine anymore. It's funny. I thought I had begun every entry with "Dear Page," an invocation I found witty at the time, but, in fact, I called my imaginary interlocutor by a couple of names and sometimes by no name at all.

Excerpted from Memories of the Future by Siri Hustvedt. Copyright © 2019 by Siri Hustvedt. Excerpted by permission of Simon & Schuster. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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