The associational logic of memory shapes Sara Suleri's Meatless Days. As such, Suleri moves from one anecdote of her life to another and leaves many stories and characters unfinished. Though Tom ostensibly receives an entire chapter in her book, "Goodbye to the Greatness of Tom," details about Tom and her relationship to him are fragmentary. A mentioning of Tom's large body size leads into a discussion of Pakistan. An account of a motorcycle accident while with Tom is followed with a discussion of Suleri's aversion to visiting Muslim tombs. The reader is left wondering about the gaps and shifts in Suleri's tone when reminiscing about Tom. While some short tales about their relationship are humorous and marked by Suleri's blunt, indifferent language, such as the following quotations:
"You do not have the backbone of a shrimp," I mourned, gazing up at the spread-sheet of that man-mountain. "You have a head the size of a bowl of porridge and the brain the size of a pea." This was in a restaurant. I was surprised beyond measure when that big head bent back and wept a quick summer shower of tears. By the time he left, all surfaces were dry. [p. 38]
"I have known you for five years," I once cried out, "and I don't even know your blood type.". . . Tom was stricken, desperate, and appalled, as streams of information went coursing down my face. [pp. 76-77]
In other passages where Tom is the subject are poignant, yet spiteful:
"I am flying to London, Sara," Tom would say, "and then to Germany." I could only be silent . . . he would quickly add, "And when I'm back, we'll talk." I felt as though I were being offered the consolation that flight attendants present when, one in each aisle, they jointly hold out yellow life jackets. [p. 81]
In yet other passages Suleri seems remorseful:
I...early began to conceive of Tom as that which must be renounced, forgone. Of course that tripled his value in my head, lending him to something of a sharp intake of breath that betokens the conclusions of a cigarette, making him a mourning-place, monument before his time. [p. 79]
Years later I am still surprised to see how something as innocuous as an airline schedule can resound in my head like an echo chamber or the transient memory of tears. [p. 82]
But still a stubborn adhesiveness in me made me loath to give up the notion, long after we had done away with the pretense of plausibility, that it was Tom who was the quickening presence of my day. [p. 83]
In the end the nature of Tom and Suleri's relationship it is not perfectly clear to the reader. Her tone seems to change from humorous to resentful to hurt as if she herself is trying to figure out exactly how she feels about Tom-and we never know what conclusion she makes.
What did you think of her non-chronological structure?
What is the effect of leaving out details? (We do not know exactly how long they were together, exactly how or why they separated, or exactly what affect Tom has had on her). Do the stories become any less hers when the reader is left to fill in the gaps themselves?
What is Suleri's attitude towards Tom, how is this reflected in the tone of her writing? What is the reader to make of Tom and their relationship? Who is Tom to her now, why was he included in this book?
Dillard, too, briefly references a love affair when she says: "I look at the mountain, which is still doing its tricks, as you look at a still-beautiful face belonging to a person who was once your lover in another country years ago: with fond nostalgia, and recognition, but no real feeling save a secret astonishment that you are now strangers. Thanks. For the memories" (p. 80). Why does Dillard make this analogy? Should we read this passage as having a matter-of-fact tone, or as being emotionally charged?
How is it similar or different from Suleri's recollection of a past love?
Last modified 3 May 2005