My 1984 interview at Kibbutz Hulda with AMOS Oz (published in Southwest Review) was an exercise in avoidance. He told me a lot. And left out even more. Now, 25 years later, his recent memoir, A TALE OF LOVE AND DARKNESS, revealed that his mother Fania committed suicide when he was only 12. Even though he seemed to be hiding something about his mother in 1984. he never told me all his truths about his mother and father.
During the interview, after much hesitation and feinting, the fact that we are both only children established a tenuous bond between us. "Only children," said Oz, "have some urgent need for more contact, proximity with other people. I create my own sisters and brothers. Each develops. Then I quarrel with them...I was a very lonely boy...Everything I have ever written or shall ever write will be autobiographical....There is no way not to write about the self."
Oz's current novella, RHYMING LIFE & DEATH, embodies what Oz meant when he talked to me so long ago. While the book is only 117 pages, the central character, "the Author" is a man in his 40s as Oz was when we talked. Alone, even with the 37 people he meets during the eight hours of his nocturnal wanderings, he invents lives for each one. An annotated appendix lists them all, including such minor characters as the thickset night watchman and Rochelle Resnik's cat, Joselito, who is Oz tells us is "Jealous. Can tell time. And makes her feel guilty."
The novella begins and ends with The Author alone. Initially, he is readying himself to meet readers' questions at his lecture at the Shunia Shor Community Center. Since every lecture is all deja vu, he anticipates the foolish questions he knows his audience will ask: "Why do you write? Why do you write the way you do? Are you trying to influence your readers, and if so, how?" Anyone who has ever been to an authorial lecture --anywhere--will recognize the ridiculous sameness and obtuseness of "literary" audience's quiz programs.
During the night, the Author tries to sleep with Rochelle, the professional reader, but the affair is doomed to failure. Repeatedly, he recognizes that he writes "to touch without touching, so that they touch him without really touching him."
"Rhyming Life and Death" is also the title of a collection by a once famous, now forgotten poet, with whom the Author identifies. Reading in a newspaper that the poet died in his sleep of "heart failure" (a contagious disease to Oz?), the Author concludes "Once in a while it is worth turning on the light to clarify what is going on. Tomorrow will be warm and humid, too. And in fact, tomorrow is today."
Oz's light is on. Life and death rhyme in a strange music. The Author and his many characters hear "broken cries of alarm from a parked car that can no longer bear its loneliness, the low weeping of a man in the next door apartment,...the shriek of a nightbird nearby that can perhaps already see what is hidden from you and me." As tomorrow becomes today, Amos Oz looks longingly toward what is hidden in this brilliant novella that speaks for the Author of yesterday, today, and tomorrow.