Michael Chabon · 414 pages
Rating: (54.6K votes)
“Every generation loses the Messiah it has failed to deserve.”
“It never takes longer than a few minutes, when they get together, for everyone to revert to the state of nature, like a party marooned by a shipwreck. That's what a family is. Also the storm at sea, the ship, and the unknown shore. And the hats and the whiskey stills that you make out of bamboo and coconuts. And the fire that you light to keep away the beasts.”
“My Saturday Night. My Saturday night is like a microwave burrito. Very tough to ruin something that starts out so bad to begin with.”
“Jesus Fucking Christ,” she says with that flawless hardpan accent of hers. It is an expression that always strikes Landsman as curious, or at least as something that he would pay money to see.”
“Bina, thank you. Bina, listen, this guy. His name wasn't Lasker. This guy-'
She puts a hand to his mouth. She has not touched him in three years. It probably would be too much to say that he feels the darkness lift at the touch of her fingertips against his lips. But it shivers, and light bleeds in among the cracks.”
“He has the memory of a convict, the balls of a fireman, and the eyesight of a housebreaker. When there is crime to fight, Landsman tears around Sitka like a man with his pant leg caught on a rocket. It's like there's a film score playing behind him, heavy on the castanets. The problem comes in the hours when he isn't working, when his thoughts start blowing out the open window of his brain like pages from the blotter. Sometimes it takes a heavy paperweight to pin them down.”
“When some drunken fool asked if she was a lesbian, she would say, 'In everything but sexual preference.”
“Get dressed,' Bina says. 'And do yourself a favor? Clean this shit up. Look at this dump. I can't believe you're living like this. Sweet God, aren't you ashamed of yourself?'
Once Bina Gelbfish believed in Meyer Landsman. Or she believed from the moment she met him, that there was a sense in that meeting, that some detectable intention lay behind their marriage. They were twisted like a pair of chromosomes, of course they were, but where Landsman saw in that twisting together only a tangle, a chance snarling of lines, Bina saw the hand of the Maker of Knots. And for her faith, Landsman repaid her with his faith in Nothing itself.
'Only every time I see your face,' Landsman says.”
“Every Messiah fails, the moment he tries to redeem himself. ”
“Fuck what is written," Landsman says. “You know what?" All at once he feels weary of ganefs and prophets, guns and sacrifices and the infinite gangster weight of God. He's tired of hearing about the promised land and the inevitable bloodshed required for its redemption. “I don't care what is written. I don't care what supposedly got promised to some sandal-wearing idiot whose claim to fame is that he was ready to cut his own son's throat for the sake of a hare-brained idea. I don't care about red heifers and patriarchs and locusts. A bunch of old bones in the sand. My homeland is in my hat. It's in my ex-wife's tote bag.”
“Like 90 percent of the television they watch, it comes from the south and is shown dubbed into Yiddish. It concerns the adventures of a pair of children with Jewish names who look like they might be part Indian and have no visible parents. They do have a crystalline magical dragon scale that they wish on in order to travel to a land of pastel dragons, each distinguished by its color and its particular brand of imbecility. Little by little, the children spend more and more time with their magical dragon scale until one day they travel off to the land of rainbow idiocy and never return; their bodies are found by the night manager of their cheap flop, each with a bullet in the back of the head. Maybe, Landsman thinks, something gets lost in the translation.”
“...Landsman doesn't buy that. Bina never stopped wanting to redeem the world. She just let the world she was trying to redeem get smaller and smaller until at one point, it could be bounded in the hat of a hopeless policeman.”
“And that was when you realized the fire was inside you all the time. And that was the miracle. Just that.”
“But there was always a shortfall, wasn't there? Between the match that the Holy One, blessed be He, envisioned and the reality of the situation under the chuppah. Between commandment and observance, heaven and earth, husband and wife, Zion and Jew. They called that shortfall 'the world.' Only when Messiah came would the breach be closed, all separations, distinctions, and distances collapsed. Until then, thanks be unto His Name, sparks, bright sparks, might leap across the gap, as between electric poles. And we must be grateful for their momentary light.”
“He didn't want to be what he wasn't, he didn't know how to be what he was.”
“Bina rolls her eyes, hands on her hips, glances at the door. Then she comes over and drops her bag and plops down beside him. How many times, he wonders, can she have enough of him, already, and still have not quite enough?”
“The exaltation of understanding; then understanding's bottomless regret.”
“You have to look at Jews like Bina Gelbfish, to explain the wide range and persistence of the race. Jews who carry their homes in an old cowhide bag, on the back of a camel, in the bubble of air at the center of their brains. Jews who land on their feet, hit the ground running, ride out the vicissitudes, and make the best of what falls to hand, from Egypt to Babylon, from Minsk Gubernya to the district of Sitka. Methodological, organised, persistent, resourceful, prepared... A mere re-drawing of borders, a change in governments, those things can never faze a Jewess with a good supply of hand wipes in her bag.”
“Like most policemen, Landsman sails double-hulled against tragedy, stabilized against heave and storm. It's the shallows he has to worry about, the hairline fissures, the little freaks of torque. The memory of that summer, for example, or the thought that he had long since exhausted the patience of a kid who once would have waited a thousand years to spend an hour with him shooting cans off a fence with an air rifle. The sight of the Longhouse breaks some small, as yet unbroken facet of Landman's heart. All of the things they made, during their minute in this corner of the map, dissolved in brambles of salmonberry and oblivion.”
“Landsman recognizes the expression on Dick's face...The face of a man who feels he was born into the wrong world. A mistake has been made; he is not where he belongs. Every so often he feels his heart catch, like a kite on a telephone wire, on something that seems to promise him a home in the world or a means of getting there. An American car manufactured in his far-off boyhood, say, or a motorcycle that once belonged to the future king of England, or the face of a woman worthier than himself of being loved.”
“He was never unfaithful to Bina. But there is no doubt that what broke the marriage was Landsman’s lack of faith.”
“Bina and Landsman were twisted together, a braided pair of chromosomes with a mystery flaw. And now? Now each of them pretends not to see the other and looks away.
Landsman looks away.”
“The day you ever have that much control over my behavior, it will be because somebody's asking you, should she get the pine box or a plain white shroud?”
“But the boy had a gift. And it was in the nature of a gift that it be endlessly given. ”
“A mere redrawing of borders, a change in governments, those things can never faze a Jewess with a good supply of hand wipes in her bag.”
“Every hour that passes, another hundredweight of sand is poured in through a tiny hole in Landsman's soul. After his eyes are closed, what happens is never quite sleep, and the thoughts that plague him, though atrocious, are never quite dreams.”
“It takes a sour woman to make a good pickle.”
“She reaches down into her bulging tote bag and pulls out a small plastic box with a hinged lid. It contains a round pill box with a threaded lid from which she tips out a vitamin pill, a fish-oil pill, and the enzyme tablet that lets her stomach digest milk. Inside the hinged plastic box she also carries packets of salt, pepper, horseradish, and hand-wipes, a doll size bottle of Tabasco sauce, chlorine pills for treating drinking water, Pepto-Bismol chews, and God knows what else. If you go to a concert, Bina has opera glasses. If you need to sit on the grass, she whips out a towel. Ant traps, a corkscrew, candles and matches, a dog muzzle, a penknife, a tiny aerosol can of freon, a magnifying glass - Landsman has seen everything come out of that overstuffed cowhide at one time or another.”
“Sister Monica Joan murmured, as though to herself, but loud enough to be heard by all, "How perfectly charming. Old enough to know it all, and young enough to blush. Perfectly charming.”
“...Simon and I by then were practicing to be apart, rehearsing together in the same room and often in the same conversation.”
“Most young men are such bores. They haven't lived long enough to learn that they are not the wonders to the world they are to their mothers.”
“a perfectly just God must punish bad deeds regardless of how many good ones someone has performed.”
“Should a black woman carrying her "madam's" white baby travel in the "whites only" or the "nonwhites" section of the train? Or would a Japanese visitor who used a "whites only" public toilet be breaking the law? Or what was a bus conductor to do when he ordered a brown-skinned passanger to get off a whites-only bus and the passanger refused, insisting that he was a white man with a deep suntan?”
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