‘Why all the oblique loops and feints and ridiculously convoluted travels?’–Mark Sarvas, ‘Harry, Revised’

Harry lies in bed, poking at the carcass of the day. He supposes Max is right. Theirs was a friendship that never ran all that deep. So why does he feel so lousy? Because, one by one, the fixed points in his life are giving way, dissolving, and he’s left wondering why any of it mattered to begin with. Why all the deception? Why all the oblique loops and feints and ridiculously convoluted travels? Looking back at the last few years of his life, he can find no two points connected by a single, straight line, and now an ineffable sadness at the time wasted, the opportunities missed, takes hold, and he’s afraid that this perpetual indirection is all he knows. The direct approach, Max had advised. How might the direct approach have saved him and Anna?

—Mark Sarvas, Harry, Revised, Chapter 13

I do enjoy rereading books, partly because I barely remember what they are about, and partly because it justifies keeping them on the shelf. I remember reading this the first time on the southbound Bx10 bus, dawdling through Riverdale on my way back from the veterinarian. This second time I read most of it on the QM2 bus dawdling through Beechhurst and Whitestone on the way back to Manhattan. Last time I take the QM2 bus, although it’s a good way to catch up on the reading.

Harry, Revised is about a guy in his forties who has been married for eight years, so it seems strangely apropos. Of course, Harry’s wife has died, and my wife is still living, and I actually have only been married for coming on five years. The George Szirtes blurb which I referred to in the comments on the original post brings out the idea that the book is about Anna, Harry’s wife, much more than about Harry. I can support that; the balance of the book between Harry’s flashbacks to life with Anna and his adventures in the present day seems tilted in favor of Anna.

Bearing in mind that Harry Rent is a fictional character and thus needs something to justify himself in the author’s imagination, his regret quoted above seems strange and alien to me. I feel so concentrated on spending time either at work doing the job or at home with the family that the notion of deceiving anyone, of even having a secret, seems like it would take up too much brainpower and time.

I suppose my secret is writing this blog. How about that for a loop or feint?

‘He feels estranged, floating freely.…Like his friend Edmond Dantès.’ –Mark Sarvas, ‘Harry, Revised’

Then she steps out into the night, and a moment later he hears her drive off. He settles into his living room chair, the one with the best view of the hills, from which the fog has all but disappeared. He feels estranged, floating freely as if somehow unanchored, cut loose from his pier, truly a permanent exile, a wanderer, whatever his phone number. Like his friend Edmond Dantès.

—Mark Sarvas, Harry, Revised, Chapter 16

Edmond Dantès, a k a the Count of Monte Cristo of the eponymous Alexandre Dumas novel, is the role model of Harry Rent, the hero of Sarvas’s novel. Harry tries to manipulate his entourage in the manner of Dumas’s hero, but it’s not clear to me how deeply Harry takes his lessons to heart: after all, The Count of Monte Cristo has no friends, not even a middle-aged radiologist living in 21st-century Los Angeles like Harry Rent.

At least the reader can entertain the possibility (or for more optimistic readers, the hope) that Harry Rent has friends. Another Los Angeles resident, the homonymously named detective Harry Bosch of Michael Connolly’s crime novels, quite certainly has no friends at all.

For this reader, Harry Rent’s ambivalence about friendship and manipulation is a welcome change from both the hard-boiled heroes exemplified today by Connolly and the affectless characters I’ve seen most recently in Jon Raymond’s Livability. Harry’s brisk and buzzing interior monologue alternates between forced loneliness and bemusing companionship, and it is the traverse between these two characteristics is the story of the book, as I see it. That, plus Harry’s search for self-knowledge, so that the question of whether Harry has any friends remains open at both ends—both for old Harry and for new Harry.

Somewhere in the 11th chapter of Harry, Revised comes the gradual recognition that Harry has achieved a certain perspective on the human condition. In this quote, he is retelling his life story to one Molly, a waitress at the diner Harry frequents.

As he tells the story, he’s aware of his redactions, the shifts of emphasis, the resemblance to the facts—truth’s doppelgänger. But it’s close enough to how it was that it allows Harry to feel honest, to convince himself of his sincerity, even as it spares Molly (and himself) the least flattering details. And as he speaks, he can’t help but register a sad truth he’s avoided—that he never gave his wife the opportunity that Molly is giving him now; surely Anna must have felt much the same under the weight of his transgression as Harry feels now under his. How much, he wonders, did this missed opportunity cost them?


Is his tale to Molly the truth? Is it honest? Well, it’s as close to honesty as Harry has traveled in years, and he marvels at how it feels.

Harry’s urge to set things right, and the author’s deft empathy with his character, opens a window slightly on Harry’s life and therefore on our own lives. I can feel the weight of Harry’s lies, pushing like the butcher’s thumb on the scales of his marriage.

For more details on Harry, Revised, peruse the author’s blog at http://www.marksarvas.com/harry.html

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