Tuesday, August 03, 2010

The Train of Their Departure by David Bezmozgis

The Train of Their Departure by David Bezmozgis describes a powerful and unavoidably common theme found in society and literature today, a disconnected impersonal isolation from ourselves and those we should be closest to.

All of the main characters appear to have little emotions for themselves or those around them starting from the very beginning where it is explained Polina did not fall in love for Maxima but allowed him to pursue her into dating, sex and eventually marriage based on curiosity over his impersonal and "robotic” advances.

Even the secondary characters we never meet seem destined with the same fate: “her friends did not fall in love but descended into infatuation.”

Maxim, her futures husband is not immune from this disconnect isolation from feeling as he is described being attracted to her as one might a future business partner citing her hard working and serious minded attributes. Even when it describes how he brings her flowers it is viewed a perfunctory act by both Maxima and Polina with the phrase “he had established a habit of bring her flowers once a week.”

During abortion procedure, which is perhaps one of the most personal procedures one can have it is described by a physical sense of disconnectedness: “Like a magician’s assistant, Polina felt as if she had been split in two. The doctor and the nurse pretended that her top half didn’t exist and dealt only with her bottom half.” Her top half, her self is divorced from the operation.

During the operation she also describes focusing on only her top part pretending that what happens below is very far away as if the operation isn’t happening to her but a remote situation unconnected to her.

Then when she wages a bet with Alec to determine whether or not they would see each other again Polina makes an effort to shoot well “as if to win” as if to avoid seeing Alec again but not because she did or didn’t want to see him but simply because “she could not perform otherwise”. She should be able to make a decision whether she would like to see him or not and moderate her efforts towards those ends to win or lose but instead she explains she has to perform well as if she is at work and the outcome of the bet are of no consequence to her.

Later Polina discovers she is pregnant and confronts Alec tht she is “almost certain” the child is Alecs and not her husbands. “Almost certain” indicates she continued to have martial relations during her relationship with Alec just as Alec had keep himself occupied when he did not see Polina. This is not a story of passion and love but of people in the motions of doing things as one might find in a factory which appropriately enough happens also to be where they both work.

Although Polina is upset with the situation she isn’t passionate or even remotely emotional about where this might leave her relationship with Alec. When questioned by him about her plans she explains she can raise the child with her husband, alone or with someone else. The very possibility that she can think of someone else at this moment signifies that she is not overly attached to her relationship with either her husband or her lover or even a desire to be alone.

The ending is quiet ironic, as the one thing Polina seems to want vehemently is to avoid a 2nd abortion and the only thing Alec appear to care somewhat about is the welfare of the unbord child yet they decide to have the abortion anyway to preserve a relationship which seems at best based more on companionable convenience then about deep feelings.

This idea can be witnessed in the last few paragraphs when Alec decides to offer her to come with him out of Russia as a conciliatory/consolatory gesture for having the abortion which she responds to in kind by cautioning him not to “try to hard next time he will be telling her he loves her.” The title “The Train of Their Departure” can be viewed as a departure from the only thing both main characters hold dear, the unborn child which in the end, they don’t feel strongly enough about to keep.

New Yorker: http://www.newyorker.com/fiction/features/2010/08/09/100809fi_fiction_bezmozgis

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