Saturday, December 4, 2010

Morsels of Tom and Memory in Sara Suleri's Meatless Days

The associational logic of memory shapes Sara Suleri's Meatless Days. As such, Suleri moves from one anecdote of her life to another and leaves many stories and characters unfinished. Though Tom ostensibly receives an entire chapter in her book, "Goodbye to the Greatness of Tom," details about Tom and her relationship to him are fragmentary.
A mentioning of Tom's large body size leads into a discussion of Pakistan. An account of a motorcycle accident while with Tom is followed with a discussion of Suleri's aversion to visiting Muslim tombs. The reader is left wondering about the gaps and shifts in Suleri's tone when reminiscing about Tom. While some short tales about their relationship are humorous and marked by Suleri's blunt, indifferent language, such as the following quotations:
"You do not have the backbone of a shrimp," I mourned, gazing up at the spread-sheet of that man-mountain. "You have a head the size of a bowl of porridge and the brain the size of a pea." This was in a restaurant. I was surprised beyond measure when that big head bent back and wept a quick summer shower of tears. By the time he left, all surfaces were dry. 
"I have known you for five years," I once cried out, "and I don't even know your blood type.". . . Tom was stricken, desperate, and appalled, as streams of information went coursing down my face. 
Poignancy of Tom
In other passages where Tom is the subject are poignant, yet spiteful:  "I am flying to London, Sara," Tom would say, "and then to Germany." I could only be silent . . . he would quickly add, "And when I'm back, we'll talk." I felt as though I were being offered the consolation that flight attendants present when, one in each aisle, they jointly hold out yellow life jackets.
In yet other passages Suleri seems remorseful:  I...early began to conceive of Tom as that which must be renounced, forgone. Of course that tripled his value in my head, lending him to something of a sharp intake of breath that betokens the conclusions of a cigarette, making him a mourning-place, monument before his time. 
Years later I am still surprised to see how something as innocuous as an airline schedule can resound in my head like an echo chamber or the transient memory of tears. 
But still a stubborn adhesiveness in me made me loath to give up the notion, long after we had done away with the pretense of plausibility, that it was Tom who was the quickening presence of my day. 
In the end the nature of Tom and Suleri's relationship it is not perfectly clear to the reader. Her tone seems to change from humorous to resentful to hurt as if she herself is trying to figure out exactly how she feels about Tom-and we never know what conclusion she makes.

Memories in Meatless Days

In Meatless Days, Sara Suleri weaves her narrative with the threads of memory, darting through images, feelings, and conversations of the past. As opposed to a chronological straight-line story, Suleri's narrative meanders and bends, jumps and circles back around, much akin to the chaotic digressions and daydreams of a reminiscing mind. But, unlike a random, free-association of thoughts, Suleri is constantly aware of the structure and order in which she presents her stories. In the following passage, she openly adresses the construction of her text, allowing the reader to glimpse the voice behind the narrative — the woman behind the curtain, so to speak.
What then are my options? I suppose I could recall that I first met Mustakori in college, at Kinnaird, but then what a Jonah my voice feels to the whale of that context. It makes mind and body boggle: Kinnaird College! for Women! on Jail Road! in Lahore! A place to imprint on unsuspecting faces looks of indelible surprise! The college was indeed on Jail Road, as was the jail, and the racecourse, and the lunatic asylum, too: daily we found it hard to believe ourselves, but it was true. 

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