Reading Matters

Roger Rosenblatt’s ‘Thomas Murphy’ is deliciously quirky

Several years ago, I read a New Yorker book excerpt, “Making Toast,” by Roger Rosenblatt. Rosenblatt’s daughter had died suddenly of a heart attack, and he and his wife picked up, as they say, and moved in with their son-in-law to help care for the children.

The essay was tender, humble, open. I saved it in a folder along with other New Yorker favorites.

Now Rosenblatt has written another novel -- “Thomas Murphy” -- the first of his novels I’ve read.

The novel has almost no plot and hardly a linear thought. It’s a crazy little novel, narrated by a 72-year-old widower who is a semi-famous poet, lives in a spacious New York apartment and thinks he might be losing his memory.

Thomas Murphy, the narrator, is obsessive, melancholy, occasionally ebullient and often two sheets to the wind.

What I liked about the novel -- besides the fact that Rosenblatt gets away with novelistic murder -- are certain memorable lines.

For instance, when his wife Oona was dying, Murphy asked if she could remember how it felt to be well.

No, she said, she couldn’t. She described the days of previous good health as “a throng of lights on a shore at night. And I am a boat borne out.”

Murph gets pulled, innocently, into a man’s wicked scheme. One night, he lies musing: “Memories run wild, as if the night had released all its prisoners.”

So Murph falls in love (as a result of the wicked scheme) with a much younger woman, blind from birth. His daughter announces she’s moving to London with her young son, William, Murph’s best friend. His heart breaks.

You’d have to expend a lot of energy not to like Murph. So you get caught up. And the pages fly by. The heck with linear. The heck with plot.

Again and again, Murph says: “You never crash if you go full tilt.”

Read this book that way, too -- full tilt -- and see if Murph gets the girl.