Books

MORTAL THOUGHTS

J.B. May 19 1997
Books

MORTAL THOUGHTS

J.B. May 19 1997

MORTAL THOUGHTS

DUST TO DUST

By Timothy Findley (HarperCollins, 225 pages, $28)

In “Dust," the opening story in Timothy Findley’s new collection, Dust to Dust, Oliver Sher has escaped to Greece to mourn the death of his longtime companion and lover. While staying at an island hotel, he becomes intimately involved in the drowning death of a French boy. Mysteriously, the tragedy galvanizes him, and he is finally able to move out of his depression. “He would buy a dog,” the story concludes,

“and life would go on, from death to death.”

Sher’s insight reflects the concern with mortality that animates Dust to Dust. Death may be a terrible thing, these stories imply, but its presence, paradoxically, is also the source of much creativity. It is the humbling prospect of death that prevents many human beings from being monsters of egotism and sloth, and calls forth their capacity for tenderness, inventiveness and justice.

In some stories—including “Americana” and "Kellerman’s Windows”—Findley plays on these themes a little too neatly and sentimentally. But other pieces are delivered with a lovely ambiguity and lightness of touch. “Infidelity” is narrated by a writer who slips away from his wife in order to smoke illicitly (the two have sworn off cigarettes together, but he has discovered he cannot create without them). His betrayal colors his entire view of the French village where they live: he comes to think that everyone he sees is having an affair. With the tension between its serious tone and comic subject matter, this story is a matchless send-up of a certain selfimportant style in French films and novels. But on a deeper level, it touches on the perverse human desire for the toxins — including death itself—that give life its savor.

J.B.