Endless Things: A Part of AEgypt
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by John Crowley
Description: This is the fourth novel--and much-anticipated conclusion--of John Crowley's astonishing and lauded AEgypt sequence: a dense, lyrical meditation on history, alchemy, and memory. Spanning three centuries, and weaving together the stories of Renaissance magician John Dee, philosopher Giordano Bruno, and present-day itinerant historian and writer Pierce Moffett, the AEgypt sequence is as richly significant as Lawrence Durrell's Alexandria Quartet or Anthony Powell's Dance to the Music of Time. Crowley, a master prose stylist, explores transformations physical, magical, alchemical, and personal in this epic, distinctly American novel where the past, present, and future reflect each other.
eBook Publisher: Small Beer Press, 2007 2007
eBookwise Release Date: August 2007
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [578 KB]
Reading time: 377-529 min.
"It is a work of great erudition and deep humanity that is as beautifully composed as any novel in my experience."--Washington Post Book World
"With Endless Things and the completion of the AEgypt cycle, Crowley has constructed one of the finest, most welcoming tales contemporary fiction has to offer us."--Book Forum
"A dizzying experience, achieved with unerring security of technique."--The New York Times Book Review
"A master of language, plot, and characterization."--Harold Bloom
"The further in you go, the bigger it gets."--James Hynes
"The writing here is intricate and thoughtful, allusive and ironic.... AEgypt bears many resemblances, incidental and substantive, to Thomas Pynchon's wonderful 1966 novel The Crying of Lot 49."--USA Today
"An original moralist of the same giddy heights occupied by Thomas Mann and Robertson Davies."--San Francisco Chronicle
Y-tag was the designation that Hitler and the German high command gave to the day--it was September 2, 1939--on which they had determined to send their forces across the border into Poland. I don't know if this was the strategists' usual way of naming such a day, or was only invented for this day of this year. Y-tag: a juncture, a crossroads that could not ever afterward be returned to.
The weather was beautiful in that season of that year, endless hot golden stasis of possibility and sweetness: everyone remembers. In New York City the World's Fair was open, "Building the World of Tomorrow," and Axel Moffett went out with Winnie Oliphant in late September, along with Winnie's brother Sam and Sam's new wife, Opal. There was a special subway train that took them out from Grand Central, an express that stopped at its own brand-new station right at the Fair's gate. Tickets to the Fair cost seventy-five cents, but Axel noted that you could spend as much as five dollars for a book of tickets to all the big shows and a lunch too. "Let's just get in," said Sam.
Sam and Opal, living in Kentucky, hadn't met Axel Moffett before; he had been courting Winnie for some time, and she had been writing funny little disparaging notes about him to Sam in Kentucky, who said to Opal that he thought maybe the lady doth protest too much. Axel lived in Greenwich Village, and had met Winnie in Union Square, near where he worked and she was trying business school. They both liked to get a frank from a cart for lunch on nice days. Sam and Opal had come north in Sam's old Buick so Opal could meet the Oliphant family. Opal was pregnant already. "I hope it's a girl," she said when Winnie touched the dove gray gabardine over her stomach.
Axel bought a guidebook, whose cover showed the Trylon and Perisphere, and a white city, and crossing searchlights illuminating little airplanes. He searched in its pages, falling behind the others and then hurrying to catch up on his oddly small and well-shod feet. They came to the center, the Theme Center. "The only all-white buildings at the Fair," Axel read, and they looked up and up, shading their eyes, at the impossibly slim, impossibly aspiring thing. Inside the great white sphere there was a model city of the time to come, a small World of Tomorrow inside the big one. The line of people who had come from all over the country and the world to see it wound up the white ramps and bridges and stairs in their hundreds to the little door that gave into the sphere. "Too long," said Sam.
"We came on too nice a day," Opal said. "We should have come in the rain." They all laughed, because rain seemed so unlikely here; here the sky would always be this azure.
"Well, it is the Theme Exhibit," Axel said wistfully. He read from the guidebook: "'Here in the "Democracity" exhibit we are introduced to the tools and techniques necessary to live full lives in the world to come.'"
"We'll just have to take our chances, I guess," Sam said. "Where now?"
"I'd like to see the Kentucky exhibit," Opal said loyally.
"I don't think there is one," Axel said. "Not every state has one."
Everywhere they wandered they saw things vastly oversized, as though brought back from some titanic elsewhere by explorers, like King Kong. The cash register that counted the visitors to the Fair, as big as a cottage; an auto piston, working away obscenely; the world's largest typewriter; a giant bank vault door; the worker with his flame held aloft atop the tower of Russia's building. "USSR," said Sam. "Not Russia."
"So what do you think?" Opal asked Sam, taking his arm and glancing back at Winnie and Axel coming along behind.
"Well," said Sam. "I don't think he's the marrying kind."
"I don't think so," Sam said, smiling.
"She's taller than he is," Opal said. Axel had stopped to light Winnie's Old Gold, though he didn't take one himself; he shook out the match with care. "That's always a little tough."
"Is that so?" said Sam, still smiling.
It was the cleanest public place they had ever been in. The thousands of well-dressed people walked or rode in little teardrop-shaped cars or took pictures of one another in front of gleaming buildings of white and pale pink and citron. Best dressed of all were the Negroes, in groups or couples, bright frocks and spectator shoes and wide hats like flowers. Opal took Sam's hand and glanced up at him (she was small, he was tall) and they were both thinking (not in words) that there really was going to be a new world, and maybe it wouldn't be possible to stay and raise a child--children--in the Cumberland highlands of Kentucky where nothing changed, or seemed only to get worse. No matter the pity and commitment you felt.
"Where now?" said Sam.
There were a hundred maps of the World of Tomorrow, all of them a little different. Some showed the buildings standing up in perspective, the spire and sphere, the strange streamlined shapes. Others showed the plan of colors, how each sector had its special color, which grew deeper the farther you got from the white center, so you always knew where you were. There were maps engraved on stone and maps on the paper place mats of the restaurant, blotted by the circles of their frosted glasses.
"Maybe Axel and I should head over to the Congress of Beauties," said Sam, who had taken Axel's guidebook and bent back the cover as though it were a Reader's Digest. "'A tribute to the body beautiful,'" he read. "'In a formal garden and woodland, there is room for several thousand people to view the devotees of health through sunshine.'"
"Sam," said Opal.
"It's okay," he said, grinning at Axel. "I'm a doctor. I'd be there if you fainted, too."
In the AT&T Building they took a hearing test and tried the Voice Mirror that let them hear their voices as others heard them; they sounded thin and squeaky in their own ears, even Axel's, which was studiedly rich and low. In the Demonstration Call Room, Opal was chosen by lot to be one of those allowed to make a telephone call to anywhere in the United States, no part of it unreachable any longer.
"Oh, that's too funny," Winnie said. Opal stepped up to the operator in uniform and headphone and gave her the number of the county clerk of Breshy County, Kentucky, who lived in the town of Bondieu. The operator turned to her switchboard and put through the call. Everyone in the Demonstration Call Room could hear the call make its way through the national web, from operator to operator, as lights lit up on a great map of America.
Central, said the operator in Bondieu, and the people in the Demonstration Call Room in Long Island made a small sound of awe.
The World's Fair operator gave her the number of the county clerk.
Oh, he ain't home, said Central. (Her name was Ivy. Opal felt a stab of homesickness.)
"Please put the call through," they heard the operator say.
I can tell you he ain't home, said Central. I just now seen him out the winder, on his way to the drugstore.
Now people in the Demonstration Call Room were starting to laugh.
"This call is coming from the New York World's Fair," the operator said, as primly, as mechanically as she could. "Please connect."
Well, all right, said Ivy. But y'all gone get no satisfaction.
Everyone but the operator was laughing now, listening to the phone ring in the empty house far away; laughing not in an unkind way, but only to show they knew that the World of Tomorrow might be a little farther off than it seemed to be here, which was no surprise really, and reflected badly on no one, not the backward little town or the flustered uniformed lady in her swivel chair. It was just time, time passing at different rates everywhere over the world, faster or more slowly.