A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki isn’t another book written by any Tom, Dick, or Harry and it isn’t for the birds, though Oliver might disagree. Ozeki uses two voices: Nao and Ruth. Nao has written a diary she keeps belittling. “I took a bitter sip and waited for the words to come. I waited and waited, and sipped some more coffee, and waited some more.” Ruth is a novelist, writing a memoir, which isn’t going so well, and is reading the diary.
Nao is a product of globalization. Her Japanese dad got a job in Silicon Valley. This fifteen year old was raised American, but had to return to Japan after the bubble burst. She isn’t Japanese and with their new poverty she is stuck in a junior high without the skills nor the means to acquire them. Ruth who has just met a man, Oliver, lives in two places, NYC and a fishing village, Whaletown, in BC. Oliver is a naturalist and is interested in birds and the ocean flotsams.
The earthquake and tsunami event at the nuclear plant in Japan is the central event of this tale. Oliver has artifacts from the gyres created and populated by the event, so soon and so far from the event. Ruth may have the diary of a victim. Nao may be the victim. Sprinkle some religion, Zen Buddhism well you have a stressful time for time beings. Nao’s diary provides details of her family back before WWII. We learn each generation has its own version of suicide.
This novel is a good example of a reader-writer arrangement, agency. The diarist has said she is writing for the reader and Ruth is beginning to believe the diary was written for her to read. The reader is using the Internet to follow clues, to uncover more connections, while the writer is writing and leaving breadcrumbs. This agency starts with Zen moments, and then moves on to quantum mechanics, Schrödinger’s cat, Everett’s response, and Mu-Mu. The reader-writer conundrum begins to take on a chicken-egg scenario and presents an enigma involving quantum physics and the ultimate notion of being, past, present, future and multiple worlds. Where will this take them?
Down a rabbit hole, that’s where it takes us. Shape shifting, ectoplasm, shadows, superpowers are just some of the treats as we navigate our mutual internal disasters. The antidote to suicide is “to live.”