My avatar died. I know, in video games, you normally get an extra life, but in this game, my avatar died and he stayed dead. In the last part of the game, I played as his son. Now, I know it’s juvenile, bordering on mentally deficient, to think mortal thoughts because a video game character croaks. But what can I do? I haven’t read The Death of Ivan Ilyich. Who knows, maybe even Tolstoy would have mourned for his avatar, if he’d been playing the same game as me, for, like, the better part of a month. Death presents itself, personally, to each of us, in strange ways. In E.L. Doctorow’s Homer and Langley, two men decline to live, and become recluses. Their story is about how, even standing still – even sat by an Xbox – we die.
A friend of mine was once a travelling Bible salesman in Florida. One day, out on the road, he came to a trailer with a pig’s-head-on-a-stick out front, and the man who lived there made him an offer. On a couch inside the trailer were three pregnant women. The man told my friend that he (the man) had impregnated these women in order to collect Social Security on his progeny. He said – if my friend wanted – he could get in on the deal. All my friend had to do was have sex, right there, with a woman he didn’t know, and nine months later the man in the trailer would mail him a cheque. This is the America where Daniel Woodrell’s Winter’s Bone takes place.
When you grow up, your heart dies. (Or so The Breakfast Club tells us). Oh, if only that were true. Life’s disappointments would be a lot easier to bear if you were heartless. You wouldn’t feel envy, or loneliness, or what it is to feel judged. Ghost-like, you could stop changing; remain in your favourite place. You wouldn’t need to untie your heart when you spoke. You’d be what Roger Greenberg (the man at the centre of Noah Baumbach’s new movie) wants to be. Dead. Unconnected to anyone. Here is a man who wants to withdraw from the world, but who is rescued by his anger. His need to withdraw frustrates him. He is intelligent, good-looking, and not shy about speaking his mind. Anger reminds him he should be a success.