What's All This Then?

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What's All This Then?

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Little Big Man
Arthur Rex
by Thomas Berger

Field-Tested by David Barringer

in Troy, Michigan

My daughter was born in august 1995, about a month or so after I passed the bar exam. My wife and I were living with her parents in Troy, Michigan, where we grew up about a mile apart from each other. All four of us — me, my wife, my mother-in-law, and father-in-law — were wiped out by the tsunami of my daughter. Day after day, night after night, she cried and screamed like a force of nature. She took us apart, one by one. She created her own weather, her own climate, her own ecosystem. We were trapped inside. Was it summer? Was it still summer? Hot and sticky, humid and thick. Loud and mad, tearful and fearful. My daughter had colic. No, I mean, she had colic like if someone tells you their kid gets up three times a night, and man, they can’t get any sleep. You tell them, “Shut up.” That’s not colic. That’s normal. Colic is five hours straight of inconsolable bawling. And not one or two weeks. But day after day, week after week, month after month. Colic is the scrunched-up blood-red face of your tortured baby, and you can do nothing to alleviate whatever the hell is ailing her. Week after week. Month after month. You try all the remedies. Nothing works. You become a walking zombie. You don’t sleep more than an hour in a row. Ever. What I had to do, I had to hold my daughter in my lap in the glider (a yuppie rocker) all night long. What I did, I read novels all night long with my daughter in my lap. I couldn’t slip her into the crib once she fell asleep. No. I could barely sneak her into our bed sometimes. That would wake her up. What I did, I held her. I read novels. I read Thomas Berger’s Little Big Man. I read Thomas Berger’s Arthur Rex.

I read about 25 novels during my daughter’s colic period. Was it summer? Was it still summer? I had no idea. The weather was my daughter. Hot and humid, loud and maddening. I escaped into the novels of Thomas Berger. I read them night after night with my daughter curled in one arm. I had a book butterflied in my hand, you know, where you have your pinky finger holding open the left page and your thumb holding open the right. To turn the page, I put the book down or propped it against my knee or the arm of the glider. I had to read in low light. I had to bring the pages close to my face. Coal-black words glowing on a golden page.

Little Big Man. Arthur Rex. I had never read novels like that. I have never since read novels like that. I was sincerely sad when the books ended. I missed the characters. I wanted to go back. I wanted to start again. But you can never go back. You can never start again. My daughter had colic for five months, from the time she was two weeks old until the day she turned six months old, when my wife and I moved into our own apartment and the colic, inexplicably, subsided. Why do storms start? Why do they end? I remember this time of my life. How can I not? I remember those novels. I still miss the people who lived in them. But I can’t go back. Is it summer? Is it still summer? No. Summer’s over.

Another season is clearing its throat.

David Barringer is the author of the novel American Home Life and the book of design criticism, American Mutt Barks in the Yard. He designs Opium Magazine. Visit him at his website.

Buy Little Big Man and Arthur Rex

Read the next Field Test by Jonathan Bell