Necessary continuations?

#70 of 2012 • Every Seventh Wave, by Daniel Glattauer
Translated from the German by Katharina Bielenberg and Jamie Bulloch

I’m sorry to say that happiness is not made of emails.

Since I put this book down—this sequel to one of the most accommodatingly sappy surprises of my reading life—I’ve been wondering about its necessity. That is: Did Every Seventh Wave have to exist? Setting aside the little green goblin that suspects authors of cashing in on their successes [after all, why the hell not?], I’ve wondered if it’s good for the narrative—for this story shared by Leo and Emmi—to move forward from that open-ended conclusion of the first book, to risk belaboring their tale. And toward a more conventional ending that just reeks of crowd-pleasing happiness? Was it necessary for the author to return to this story?

Then again, the same question can be asked of Leo and Emmi. At the first novel’s close, the virtual romance that both struggle (with distinct intensities) to have transcend into reality is brought to the fore by Emmi’s patent lack of resolve and Leo’s oft-misguided chivalrousness. Their last chance to meet—after endless weeks of e-mail exchange and banter and close calls and drunken confessions and virtual tears and lots of sap—simply fizzles. [And it hurt, dammit, for this reader.] Thus ends their correspondence, and any chance for an affair. Leo, after all, has gone off to America. Why pick at old wounds, after all? Why fling yourself and your pride, Emmi, at Leo’s feet? And Leo, again: Why Emmi?

The sequel picks up soon after the severance, and it’s at Emmi’s initiative. She basically has conversations with the automated reply of the e-mail provider. Early on, she displays the face-palming trait of being so unsure of herself and being a whiny idiot about it. Leo, when he comes onstage, is understandably distant though the dregs of his affection for Emmi remain. It’s a tragedy, and a familiar one at that.

And I enjoyed it immensely, this return. As with the book that came before it, Every Seventh Wave is about these two people in a prolonged and often emotionally volatile e-correspondence. This guy’s broody, idealistic, and tends to lapse into the poetic when he’s drunk. There’s this married woman who’s retained all her insecurities from her teenage years, including the neuroses, the paranoia, the soul-cringing talent to embarrass one’s self. They rekindle the flirtation, the affection—and because, well, both have nothing to lose at this point anyway [or so they tell themselves], they conspire to meet. Face to face.

Whereas the first book builds on their virtual life with each other, the second book has them resolving to bring it to real life—never mind that they are, for all intents and purposes, over and done with [and isn’t that the challenge this time around?]. Logically, it’s a harmless continuation. But when I get all nitpicky and think of the narrative arc—of the satisfaction I got from the open ending of the first book—I can’t help but wonder if this does more harm than good. But then I must ask the snob that runs savage inside my reading self: Was that not-quite-happy ending of the first book raise its [literary] merit? Because happy endings aren’t for Literature? Was I squeamish about this second book because it took pains to assure me that all’s well that ends well?

What the hell is wrong with me, indeed.

The simple truth is: Love Virtually made me giddy, and made me hopeful for love. Every Seventh Wave, albeit a narrative-strategic failure, cemented that hope. In Emmi, I saw too clearly the possibility of patheticness-before-love that lurks in every lover—and the tenacity and the pure spine of being able to say Ah, to hell with all that dignity. In Leo—Leo, this too-ideal man Glattauer created—I could all too easily project the modern-day Prince Charming, human and flawed, smart and disarming and charming. Both very confused people with their own agenda, just trying so very hard to make something work—even if, hell, maybe it’s not such a good idea.

You know when you’re minding your own business, trawling a bookstore for nothing in particular—and a spine catches your attention, that familiar curve of the letters of an author’s name? And the maddening hope that the book you’re reaching for is something you didn’t even realize you existed but now you so very much need? That’s exactly how it was that Saturday afternoon between Every Seventh Wave and me.

And that’s basically, quite essentially, it: I like this book. To the point that I’m all defensive about it, and that I throw nitpicky spitballs at it, sure—but I really like this book, and I have been so insatiably curious about these people and how they—madly, stupidly, recklessly—fall in love and stay that way—even if I can’t quite tell you that I’m happy for them, but then again, I’m so damned lucky that curiosity’s been assuaged.

PSA: I bought Every Seventh Wave at the National Bookstore booth, during the Manila International Book Fair. The original price is PhP485.

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