Time is relative. Sometimes it seems like life is moving slow, so slow, that each second is dragging into the next, just barely inching along. Other times, it seems like the world is spinning, fast, too incredibly fast, that you just can’t breathe. Then there are the times,you reflect on how a day can seem so long, but how the week just flew right by. You think you just met a person, but it feels like it has been forever. One musical that I really enjoy is Rent. In this musical, there is a song entitled “Seasons of Love” and it talks about the ways in which people can measure time. There is no set way to measure how quick something happens, however, we all use like tricks to mark the passage of life.
Calvino described quickness as the shortest distance between two points. In literature, quickness has to do with style, theme, word choice, plot, characterization. A text that embodies quickness, though, also emphasizes the idea of digression. It illustrates how, if we get too caught up in the details, a quick text can “quickly” become slow. Also, sometimes a heavy idea can be diluted if it is told quickly, or if the idea changes rapidly after. Quickness can be used to make heavy ideas easier to deal with. It is also a means to uphold attention. However, quickness, like time, is not black and white.
My Sister’s Keeper embodies the idea of quickness in many ways. Most obviously, is the main plot: a young girl, Kate, is dying of leukemia. Her life is passing by at a rapid pace. It is limited. A sense that life is finite, seems to accompany the idea of quickness. We are quick, when we know we don’t have much time. The novel requires the other characters to make quick life or death decisions. Sacrifices must be made. However, the idea of an approaching death is quite heavy. It is slow and difficult to grasp. While Kate’s death is approaching at a fast pace, as she is in the final stages of renal failure, her death has been slow coming. She was diagnosed at the age of three. Her life is measured in relapses and remissions. It is about time slowing down, and then hoping it will speed back up and that she will get better. It has not been a question of will she die, but a question of when. The question of “when?” automatically situates the reader and characters to focus on time.
This fixation with time – how much time is left, how one is spending time, how time can be borrowed – all of these have to do with the idea of quickness. When we sense that time exists in an hour glass, we are forced to make wise decisions with what to do with our time, all the while knowing that as we sit and ponder, more sand is falling through the glass.
The way the book is written, also lends to its quickness. It is separated by days of the week. Each section is a different day, in chronological order. The book spans two weeks. Therefore, as the reader flips through the pages, he or she can’t help but be reminded of time and how quickly it is passing. With each day – or each section – Kate is closer to dying. Another method that Jodi Picoult, the author, utilizes, is differing perspective. There are about seven characters that she migrates between. This makes the pace seem quicker. It also helps diminish the heaviness of each passage. You read something deep or painful and intense, but then it is quickly over and you are on to the next person. It is used as a means of relief for the reader.
This makes me wonder if quickness is something we use to escape from really immersing ourselves in the hard stuff. If we can quickly brush something off, is this the simpler thing to do?
My Sister’s Keeper also involves a legal battle. Kate’s sister, Anna, was genetically modified to be the perfect bone marrow match for Kate. She was engineered and born to save her sister. She is, in essence, her sister’s keeper. However, the decisions were always made for her. She was quickly told to help her sister, but Anna never got the chance to really think about the implications. The novel centers around her realization that she wants control of her own body. She sues her parents for medical emancipation – or rights to her own body. Therefore, the sense that Anna is fighting not to give her sister the kidney that is need to save Kate’s life, adds to the urgency of Kate’s situation. It makes it all that more important that the court hearing occur quickly, so that the family can then figure out what to do with their lives.
Another way, perhaps one of the most poignant ways, in which quickness can be seen in this novel, is the way in which all the children in this family must mature at a rapid pace. Their innocence is taken away at a young age. They must cope with problems way beyond their years. Childhood, for them, occurs too fast.
The characters in this novel have most of their problems because things occurs too quickly – before they could breathe, gain control, really assess the situation. They had to be quick, or else they wouldn’t survive. Jodi Picoult crafts this book in a clever way by jumping from one narrative and one day to the next. She is forcing her readers to be quick, with the characters. She is telling us that we better keep up, or we will fall behind – that life can be rough and horrible and hard to grasp, but that we need to, and then we need to keep moving. Through her style, she creates a pulse, a propelling motion forward. Whether this is to Kate’s death or not, we are moving, we are discovering, we are learning, we are feeling. The journey is deep, but it is quick – much like life, itself.
The E-lit I chose to illustrate the idea of quickness is “Star Wars, one letter at a time” by Brian Kim Stefans. If we are thinking of letters as the vehicles of transportation in literature, then letters produced at a quick pace, imply a sort of quickness. In this piece, we are literally being shown individual letters at a rapid pace. However, there is this interesting twist to the idea of quickness that is being presented – the idea that sometimes our thoughts cannot keep up with the words on a page. The letters are fired at us much like bullets, and if you blink or turn away for a second, you miss the letter, which messes up the word, which changes the whole meaning of the sentence. There is this idea that the thoughts are so swift, they almost have a mind of their own. They drive themselves, in a way.
This E-lit piece also lends to the idea that creating a word or a sentence can be done in a heartbeat, but the creation of an entire piece of literature takes time. By showing us only one letter at a time, our reading is sped up, but our understanding is somewhat slowed down. It is ironic and paradoxical – this idea of quickness and digression existing simultaneously. But that is what fascinates me here – the idea that words can be formed quickly, but meaning needs to marinate. There is the idea of physical movement, the words literally moving on the page, versus mental movement, the mind catching up with the content.