And though our separation, it pierced me to the heart
She still lives inside of me, we’ve never been apart
And then, these journeys
and my sea of renewal
What makes a house a home—someone to listen to your music and share your cookies; a tenant to shoot pool and banter with; a friend to cook for and play checkers; certainly a house with a dog or a cat; maybe a house with only the books and their characters or poetry that have kept you company? Can you come home to a place you’ve never really left? What makes this possible?
Maybe first ask, what makes this difficult?
In the last chapters of Adjustments, by Will Willingham, everyone comes home, not because they have been physically away, but because they open the doors to their hearts. They give what they have bridled against losing for years.
What allows this to happen is a novel about unrequited love; the wakes left from the passing of loved ones; discord and empathy; accident and acceptance; and in the end for Will Phillips, an act of liberation.
Adjustments is easy to read because of Willingham’s ability with revealing and entertaining dialogue—the romantic scenes, the dinner scenes are truly cinematic in the mind of the reader. But the story of Will Phillips’s awakening does what any excellent novel requires: a deeper reading, a slower reading, an attention that matches the care with which it, obviously, was written. The final pages ask you to begin a second read.
With excellent rendering, the mysteries surrounding Will Phillips, Barbara Roberts, Joe Murphy, Pearl Jenkins, and Cameron Julian are carried along for nearly the full five-hundred plus pages.
What does Joe mean to this story? I said in an earlier discussion that Joe seemed to be an angel for Will, someone to urge him relentlessly to engage in his life and take what it is offering. Will does not see how Joe takes in stride a heart attack. And when Joe accompanies Will to the beer truck accident, he turns up a beer keg and opens a bottle of the spilled Coors, while Will agonizes over the rudeness of Karl Wainwright, the tow truck operator.
Joe asks Will if he has complicated his life. Will responds yes, but, “You have also added something that I’ll one day understand as good, even if today I can’t for the life of me figure it out.” Joe smiles and congratulates Will on learning to wait for the arrival of good things.
We learn finally the full story of Barbara, who, like the doll’s head, remains a bodiless resident in Will’s memory and still causing him strife. The final chapters reveal the story of the childhood fire that burned Will’s arm at the cajoling of Barbara for Will to “be a man.”
It takes the full cast of Adjustments’s characters, two cats and a dog, and no less than eleven poets to bring Will to his senses, forget about Barbara, and find “the good parts” in a real relationship with Cameron. But it is this effort that also makes whole each individual’s sense of home.
In reading and rereading Adjustments, I was reminded of “Little Gidding” where T. S. Eliot writes:
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Photo by Ian Sane, Creative Commons license via Flickr. Post by Richard Maxson.
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