The Motion of the Body Through Space by Lionel Shriver
English | 2020 | General Fiction/Classics | ePUB | 3.1 MB
In Lionel Shriver’s entertaining send-up of today’s cult of exercise-which not only encourages better health, but now like all religions also seems to promise meaning, social superiority, and eternal life-an aging husband’s sudden obsession with extreme sport makes him unbearable.
After an ignominious early retirement, Remington announces to his wife Serenata that he’s decided to run a marathon. This from a sedentary man in his sixties who’s never done a lick of exercise in his life. His wife can’t help but observe that his ambition is “hopelessly trite.” A loner, Serenata disdains mass group activities of any sort. Besides, his timing is cruel. Serenata has long been the couple’s exercise freak, but by age sixty, her private fitness regimes have destroyed her knees, and she’ll soon face debilitating surgery. Yes, becoming more active would be good for Remington’s heart, but then why not just go for a walk? Without several thousand of your closest friends?
As Remington joins the cult of fitness that increasingly consumes the Western world, her once-modest husband burgeons into an unbearable narcissist. Ignoring all his other obligations, he engages a saucy, sexy personal trainer named Bambi, who treats Serenata with contempt. When Remington sets his sights on the legendarily grueling triathlon, MettleMan, Serenata is sure he’ll end up injured or dead. And even if he does survive, their marriage may not.
The Motion of the Body Through Space is vintage Lionel Shriver written with psychological insight, a rich cast of characters, lots of verve and petulance, an astute reading of contemporary culture, and an emotionally resonant ending.
“I’ve decided to run a marathon.”
In a second-rate sitcom, she’d have spewed coffee across her breakfast. Yet Serenata was an understated person, and between sips. “What?” Her tone was a little arch, but polite.
“You heard me.” Back to the stove, Remington studied her with a discomfiting level gaze. “I have my eye on the race in Saratoga Springs in April.”
She had the sense, rare in her marriage, that she should watch what she said. “This is serious. You’re not pulling my leg.”
“Do I often make statements of intent, and then pull the rug out: just foolin’? I’m not sure how to take your disbelief as anything but an insult.”
“My ‘disbelief’ might have something to do with the fact that I’ve never seen you run from here to the living room.”
“Why would I run to the living room?”
The literalism had precedent. They called each other out in this nitpicking manner as a matter of course. It was a game. “For the last thirty-two years, you’ve not once trotted out for a run around the block. And now you tell me with a straight face that you want to run a marathon. You must have assumed I’d be a bit surprised.”
“Go ahead, then. Be surprised.”
“It doesn’t bother you . . .” Serenata continued to feel careful. She didn’t care for the carefulness, not one bit. “. . . That your ambition is hopelessly trite?”
“Not in the least,” he said affably. “That’s the sort of thing that bothers you. Besides, if I decline to run a marathon because so many other people also want to run one, my actions would still be dictated by the multitude.”
“What is this, some ‘bucket list’ notion? You’ve been listening to your old Beatles records and suddenly realized that when I’m sixty-four refers to you? Bucket list,” she repeated, backing off. “Where did I get that?”
Indeed, incessant citation of the now commonplace idiom was exactly the sort of lemming-like behavior that drove her wild. (That allusion did a grave injustice to lemmings. In the documentary that propagated the mass-suicide myth, the filmmakers had flung the poor creatures over the cliff. Thus the popular but fallacious metaphor for mass conformity was itself an example of mass conformity.) Okay, there was nothing wrong with adopting a new expression. What galled was the way everyone suddenly started referring to their “bucket list” in a breezy, familiar spirit that conveyed they had always said it.
Serenata began to push up from her chair, having lost interest in the news from Albany on her tablet. It had only been four months since they’d moved to Hudson, and she wondered how much longer she’d keep up the pretense of a connection with their old hometown by reading the Times Union online.