There’s an interview on the radio, a man speaking, unmistakably Dutch accent, talking about his behaviour and activities when he was trying to cope with his wife’s death from breastcancer. They both had been in their thirties when all this happened. I’m not sure what we, the listeners are asked to do. Is this another example of Dutch exhibitionism, their cockiness about being able to talk in public, in England and in English (yes I’m cynical now), about their worst kind of behaviour but still taking the moral high ground? Is he another character trying to impress the rest of the world how liberal and free thinking the Dutch actually are? He describes how their relationship had always been one of indulgence, at least of his indulgence, his wife knowing that he would have other relationships every so often, and how that never affected their own loving relationship. At the same time I figure that if both of them indulged in the same behaviour then that’s fine and neither of them were hurt. Only he does not elaborate on that, only on the fact that she accepted that he did what he did. It sounds to me like a one-way system, but who am I to judge if she was happy with it. We don’t find out. May be she did genuinely accept his behaviour.
He elaborates on all this because it forms the background and somehow or other helps to justify his behaviour when he tried to come to terms with the fact that when his wife was diagnosed as having cancer, he went out and indulged in continuous screwing around. He uses a much more pleasant expression, one that does not sound so offensive, he says he had one night stands, many of them, in order to come to terms with the fact that his wife would die (she was given 5 months).
That’s where he loses me: he talks about their undying love, she dies in his arms, but that after having spent days in hospital with her he goes out and has ‘one night stands’. Could he not have waited until she was dead? What do they talk about when he visits? He also implies that this is on the same level as going out and drinking and I don’t see that it is: drinking he harms himself, screwing around he must hurt a dying wife to the core, surely?
So there’s a story for you, you cannot make them up and that then brings me to the real reason for writing all this down: wanting to write stories I realise that there should be something more to it than simply telling the idiotic things that people do, the messy lives they lead, the strange circumstances they find themselves in, the unhappiness etc. Good stories have a point, they try and say something more, they’re about inventing the most absurd circumstances or things that people may do. In the end a good story digs a bit deeper, they try to go beneath the surface of all these activities and unravel something about the human dilemma of finding themselves in these circumstances. Philip Roth in an essay on writing American fiction (Malcolm Bradbury – The Novel Today) elaborates on that much better than I can.
The moral of the Dutchman’s story? You see, I am not sure there is one. One listener immediately phones in and comments that he feels so much better because now he knows that he is not the only one who behaved in this way when in similar circumstances. Now it seems that at least the story seems to provide justification for other people and perhaps that’s good enough, or is it?