I just finished reading a novel called Past Imperfect by Julian Fellowes. Given the subject matter, Present Imperfect or Future Imperfect might be more apt.
Fellowes' previous novel, Snobs, was equally good. True to it's name, it was about social classes in Britain, and where you might think Past Imperfect is about social class distinctions, since the bulk of the characters are of the upper class in Great Britain, in truth it's about youthful dreams and time and and what time does to our lives...and our hopes. So many of Fellowes' characters wind up with flawed lives and crushed promise. That won't lure you in?
There are so many changes in social mores that he nails. Ascot. Debutante balls. Toeing parental lines. The death knell pain of being at a party with a controlling personality. In one passage, at a debutante ball Fellowes, like a social anthropologist reporting on tribal mating patterns, describes the pain of trying to engage someone in polite conversation where there is a complete lack of interest, no matter what topic is touched on. He says a friend always said of this type of social interchange, that it was like "pumping mud." Far more vivid than the proverbial "like pulling hen's teeth."
The book opens with a scene that was very painful to me, because it strikes at my heart at this moment. The protagonist is reflecting on the London of his boyhood, versus his middle age, and he says, "London is a haunted city for me now and I am the ghost that haunts it. As I go about my business, every street or square or avenue seems to whisper of an earlier, different era in my history. The shortest trip round Chelsea takes me by some door where once I was welcome but where today I am a stranger. I see myself issue forth, young again, and as I watch beside that wraith of a younger me walk the shades of departed, parents, uncles, aunts and grandmothers, great-uncles and cousins, friends and girlfriends, gone now from this world entirely, or at least from what is left of my own life. They say one sign of growing old is that the past becomes more real than the present, and already I can feel the fingers of those lost decades closing their grip round my imagination, making more recent memory seem somehow greyer and less bright." Washington holds many such losses and ghosts for me.
I remember my father telling me that if you live long enough, you see your friends go away, or even more so, die off, until there is so little left of what was your life. Making new acquaintances is not that easy with the passing of decades, and if it's hard in youth, even more so for the isolated elderly. I can remember in the later years of my father's life, I drove him to a funeral viewing of a man that he had known for decades, that he rode to work with for decades, and when we arrived, and he had paid his respects, he said to me, "Get me out of here. I cannot take it anymore." This from a man always present and accounted for to honor his peers. But he had finally hit the wall. No more. And that...was that.
The next piece I write is going to be about one of my own personal walls, and my ghosts, and how going through something like that can now haunt me, and level me.