I was happy to see Kathryn Harrison’s new book, While They Slept, reviewed in the “NY Times” today. I haven’t yet read the book, but I know Mr. Robert Pinsky could not have done it justice. The book is about a boy who murdered his abusive father and mother and little sister while his older sister was asleep upstairs.
Pinsky talks about the “flatness of tone” when “speaking about the unspeakable.” Maybe I’ve missed the whole point but it seems to me that “flat” is about all one can be when speaking about the “banality of evil,” as Hannah Arendt called it. I mean, what was Ms. Harrison supposed to do? Sensationalize it like it was some tabloid serial?
No, flatness seems just right. Like when I sit with a young man who murdered his pregnant wife because she confessed to him that the baby she carried was “probably” not his own. How am I to react? I take my cue from him, the horrified criminal. He has enough tears for the both of us.
I’m guessing that Harrison’s understatement allows the readers to feel the terror themselves, without interfering. To some, this may seem flat. But to any survivor of trauma, it’s on the mark. Trauma is enough to silence us all to stand blunted and numb before its destruction.