Reading Padgett Powell’s new book, You & Me, felt a lot like sitting on a lawn chair, slightly drunk, quietly listening to two old and charming men, also slightly drunk, pontificate on life. I imagine Powell, author of Edistoand The Interrogative Mood: A Novel?, reclining in Gainesville, getting down to the true business of what it means to repose.
Fashioned after Waiting for Godot, the book features two unidentified speakers, indistinguishable from one another, who simply speak together. Unlike Didi and Gogo, they aren’t really waiting for anything—except maybe death, a little. Or rather, a state of readiness for death, but only as much as they are waiting for a woman to stop by. The book offers no plot, and yet I felt compelled forward by some strange momentum, and I have some suspicions as to what these mysterious gadgets of momentum might be.
Gadget #1: Charm
I kind of fell in love with them a little bit. I, admittedly, have a weakness for old men, especially if they are tender toward some loss, but the dialogue here is not only funny and intelligent, but graceful and full of the humility of a felt humanity.
You have a wife?
I had a wife.
Oh. Of course. We all had a wife. Wife is a synonym for "past."
Are you in love with them? I am in love with them. I want to bring them blankets and whiskey and perhaps offer snacks later, because they probably aren’t eating enough. Which brings me to...
Gadget #2: Comfort
The interchange here is tender: it is tender between the two men and they are tender towards themselves. They are tender even in their disappointment of people and what life has ended up being.
What about with the exposed Wizard in the basket at the end?
Dorothy never gets in the basket. That’s what wakes her up.
We never got in the basket either, my friend, and that is what has us all woke up. We are looking up at the basket.
We is all woke up and nowhere to go.
It is comforting to listen in on their exchange. Their words are comforting, their philosophy is comforting, their relationship is comforting. This makes for easy reading, but it also helps to propel things along, in that we want to seek out further comfort. Further comfort and simply more words from those who would comfort us.
Gadget #3: Intimacy Over Time
There are various characters and objects introduced over the course of the conversations, such as the imagined character Studio Becalmed, who take on a kind of fullness. But after reading the whole book, I’m pretty convinced that what really kept me reading, excitedly and with pleasure, was simply the desire to spend enough time here, in their conversation, to feel as though I knew them fully enough, and that I was given the gist of all they had to say.
This is why we do not know, have a clue, really, how to live today as if it's the last day of our lives. We think we have the score because we can see that fifty years ago we did not have the score, bolting from the playhouse, but the fact is we are bolting from another playhouse today. We do not even recognize it as a playhouse.
It wouldn’t do to cut these men short. And I don’t think the full pleasure of the encounter would be the same if the story were told in any other way.