The Index of Self-Destructive Acts by Christopher Beha

The Index of Self

The Index of Self-Destructive Acts by Christopher Beha
English | 2020 | General Fiction/Classics | ePUB | 2.9 MB

Through baseball, finance, media, and religion, Beha traces the passing of the torch from the old establishment to the new meritocracy, exploring how each generation’s failure helped land us where we are today.

What makes a life, Sam Waxworth sometimes wondered-self or circumstance?

On the day Sam Waxworth arrives in New York to write for the Interviewer, a street-corner preacher declares that the world is coming to an end. A data journalist and recent media celebrity-he correctly forecast every outcome of the 2008 election-Sam knows a few things about predicting the future. But when projection meets reality, life gets complicated.

His first assignment for the Interviewer is a profile of disgraced political columnist Frank Doyle, known to Sam for the sentimental works of baseball lore that first sparked his love of the game. When Sam meets Frank at Citi Field for the Mets’ home opener, he finds himself unexpectedly ushered into Doyle’s crumbling family empire. Kit, the matriarch, lost her investment bank to the financial crisis; Eddie, their son, hasn’t been the same since his second combat tour in Iraq; Eddie’s best friend from childhood, the fantastically successful hedge funder Justin Price, is starting to see cracks in his spotless public image. And then there’s Frank’s daughter, Margo, with whom Sam becomes involved-just as his wife, Lucy, arrives from Wisconsin. While their lives seem inextricable, none of them know how close they are to losing everything, including each other.

Sweeping in scope yet meticulous in its construction, The Index of Self-Destructive Acts is a remarkable family portrait and a masterful evocation of New York City and its institutions. Over the course of a single baseball season, Christopher Beha traces the passing of the torch from the old establishment to the new meritocracy, exploring how each generation’s failure helped land us where we are today. Whether or not the world is ending, Beha’s characters are all headed to apocalypses of their own making.

What makes a life, Sam Waxworth sometimes wondered—self or circumstance?

On the day that Waxworth arrived in New York to write for the Interviewer, a man named Herman Nash stood on the rim of the fountain in Washington Square and announced that the world was about to end. After close biblical reading and careful calculation, Nash had settled on November 1 at 10:00 PM as the precise moment of the event he called the “Great Unveiling.” (So far as Waxworth knew, no time zone had been specified; perhaps it would be an incremental apocalypse.) A tourist captured the prediction on video, and more than fifty thousand people watched it on TeeseView that week. Nash appeared at the same time the following Saturday and the one after that, by which point his audience had grown so large that it brought out the police. When he called on his listeners to prepare for a coming battle, at least one took the words literally, throwing a bottle of urine at a mounted officer, who lost control of his horse, which ran him out of the park and several blocks up Fifth. All of this was in turn recorded and posted and viewed. Soon it seemed that Armageddon was everywhere.

Waxworth wasn’t one to find intimations of catastrophe in the pages of a three-thousand-year-old assemblage of myth and poetry and legal documents. Waxworth was a philosopher—not by training or occupation but, he believed, by disposition. He tried to attend to the facticity of things. The world, in Waxworth’s view, was a knowable place, once you stripped away the dead tradition and wishful thinking built up over millennia of misunderstanding. For most of human history—and even today, in places—such an effort could condemn you to death. Conditions were better in Waxworth’s particular moment and milieu, but absolute honesty still required a certain amount of courage. In lieu of rack and ropes, the modern skeptic faced social suspicion and familial disappointment. Faced too his own admitted desire that life should carry more meaning than the facts would bear. Which facts were these: we occupied a tiny corner of the universe, minor planet orbiting a minor star, in an even tinier corner of cosmological time. Still we wanted all of it, the sun and the moon and the firmament that held them, to be about us. This want had been bred into humanity, selected by nature, so it must have served some purpose once, but it had long outlived its usefulness, as far as Waxworth was concerned. What was needed now was to know.

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