Irish author, John McGahern, known for his simplicity of prose, writes the following in his 1990 acclaimed novel Amongst Women: The cut field looked completely empty and clean. As Rose and the girls were crossing the grass to the tractor, they almost stumbled over a hen pheasant sitting on her nest. They were startled that she didn’t fly until they saw the feathers on the cut grass. The legs had been cut clean from her while she sat.
Her eyes were shining and alive, a taut stillness over the neck and body, petrified in her instinct. “The poor thing,” Rose said. “Still sitting there.” Neither could bring themselves to look again. All that was left of the hen the next morning was a little scattering of down and feathers on the drying grass. “A fox or a cat or a grey crow. Who knows?”
The general premise of the book is obvious: living through the pandemic and watching the routines of everyday life dissolve away. Our main character, Davis, considers the lack of achievement in his life and then approaching death.
Davis sits on his fire escape every night and listens to the sounds of the city. One specific sound emerges: the communal humming of the buildings. He realizes that his mind has been cluttered and starts to dig into the more essential question of the meaning of this sound. He listens to it intently.
The sound is constant, but Davis realizes that he is not, that the sound swells and fades as does his interest. His mind drifts to other things. He tries to devote himself to the sound. He begins to understand that the sound asks that we do nothing but listen to it. The only thing needed is to listen to the note. His confidence in his understanding of this grows and grows until he realizes that he is now thinking about that – his confidence – and not the sound.
He then understands that he doesn’t understand. He cannot understand. He understands that to listen to that sound, to understand that sound is an impossibility.
Anyway, that’s the general premise. The book needs more of an arc and a whole bunch of interesting characters. And the real trick is to keep the tale sharp and witty! Lots of existential jokes and sex bits too.