Leaning Towards Infinity by Sue Woolfe
Leaning Towards Infinity
Sometimes, just to be able to manage the wealth of good writing in a bookstore, I limit myself to a single column of shelves and pick a book from that column. I don't allow myself to stray. This process keeps my panic at bay. Of course I also have a list, gleaned from recommendations from friends and publications, but I don't want to limit myself to the well-worn path. It was by this process that twenty years ago my hand landed on Leaning Towards Infinity by Sue Woolfe, an Australian author I had never heard of. Once I opened the cover, I didn't rise from the couch until I was finished. It was one of those longed-for experiences and I christened it one of the best books I had ever read in my life.
So, it was with a wee bit of trepidation that I pulled it from my Sacred Texts shelf last week, having read every unread book in the house, and decided to read it again, fearing that my earlier self might have been a little too eager. Not so. It happened again. I read it cover to cover over two blissful days.
I don't know how to summarize the story. It's about genius, envy, longing, being made invisible, becoming, finally, who you are. It's at times fantastical, but always believable. And she is unsparing in making vivid how ruinous we are with one another. Her details capture feeling so painfully. Here are a few samples of her writing:
On Francis' relationship with her mother:
I'd go on my way to the airport. Then, in the urgency of separation, surely we'd sit close to each other at last and I'd pleat up my life to tell her, as if I was an innocent girl in skirts whispering who I'd like to dance with. For years, our throats had been thick with conversations that wouldn't begin. So instead we'd say here's enough neat left on the bone for a stew. That tidy-up has done the hosue a world of good. Wrong words that clung like greasy dishwater on the hands.
On Francis' relationship with her father:
...and the car raced across the road and up an embankment. We were going so fast, so slowly, I watched death come. I found words to pray as we raced to the cliff top. Let em live so something beautiful in mathematics sneaks up on me. Father screeched to a stop. Three metres away, the ciff fell away into valleys a long scream away, all that was in front of us was the empty air. We sat on the edge of the world, panting. Shut up when I'm driving, he said. There was a jaggedness between us that was almost hate.
On Francis' mother's loneliness:
Frank home late and gone just after dawn, it was too cold to take Matti to the shops, the delivery boy just left the groceries on the step and didn't call, I was looking forward to saying hello not that he'd talk to me, I'm just an old woman to him. The postman hadn't blown his whistle, even the birds were silent. I'm ashamed to be so needy. Three days of solitude and I was lifting the black telephone receiver to see if the switch operator could hear me, and when she said You again? I shouted Sorry. I was twisting my head this way and that to peer through the scrub to the letterbox, gazing up the road to find an eddy of dust from a car.
This book is out of print. You can order it through Abe Books.
About Susan Edsall
Writing is how I make my way through the thicket of what we’ve made of this planet we’re on. It takes me a long time and lots of words. Social media mystifies me. How do so many people have so much to say, so quickly, and with such resolute certainty? Read more about Susan >