Monday, February 1, 2010

Against forgiveness

"So all I have is the knowledge that I saw! That I saw without being afraid and without turning away, and that I didn't forgive the unforgiveable. Forgiveness is a reflex for when you can't stand what you know. I resisted that reflex. That's my sole, solitary, lonely accomplishment."

From A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley.

I'd meant to read this 1991 novel for a long time, and I finally just did. Wow. It is superb. I need to think some more about why, and I don't know that I'll be able to articulate my thoughts well enough to post them here, but I do want to say that I found this little speech, which comes right at the end from one of the main characters who's dying, to be very powerful. It refers on the most obvious level to what this character's, and her sister the narrator's, father did to them. But I believe it's meant to have broader resonance as well, and it certainly did for me. I felt such a strong boi-oi-oing effect as I read it, as if it were echoing off mountainsides and canyons and prison walls and factories, in Palestine and Haiti, Detroit and New Orleans, everywhere wrongs are done and the wrongdoers expect the oppressed to let them off the hook.