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On Sale: March 25, 2014
Pages: 208 | ISBN: 978-0-385-35014-3
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

Following his magisterial To the End of the Land, the universally acclaimed Israeli author brings us an incandescent fable of parental grief––concise, elemental, a powerfully distilled experience of understanding and acceptance, and of art’s triumph over death.
 
In Falling Out of Time, David Grossman has created a genre-defying drama––part play, part prose, pure poetry––to tell the story of bereaved parents setting out to reach their lost children. It begins in a small village, in a kitchen, where a man announces to his wife that he is leaving, embarking on a journey in search of their dead son. The man––called simply Walking Man––paces in ever-widening circles around the town. One after another, all manner of townsfolk fall into step with him (the Net-Mender, the Midwife, the Elderly Math Teacher, even the Duke), each enduring his or her own loss. The walkers raise questions of grief and bereavement: Can death be overcome by an intensity of speech or memory? Is it possible, even for a fleeting moment, to call to the dead and free them from their death? Grossman’s answer to such questions is a hymn to these characters, who ultimately find solace and hope in their communal act of breaching death’s hermetic separateness. For the reader, the solace is in their clamorous vitality, and in the gift of Grossman’s storytelling––a realm where loss is not merely an absence but a life force of its own.

Excerpt

town chronicler: As they sit eating dinner, the man’s face suddenly turns. He thrusts his plate away. Knives and forks clang. He stands up and seems not to know where he is. The woman recoils in her chair. His gaze hovers around her without taking hold, and she—wounded already by disaster—senses immediately: it’s here again, touching me, its cold fingers on my lips. But what happened? she whispers with her eyes. Bewildered, the man looks at her and speaks:

—I have to go.

—Where?

—To him.

—Where?

—To him, there.

—To the place where it happened?

—No, no. There.

—What do you mean, there?

—I don’t know.

—You’re scaring me.

—Just to see him once more.

—But what could you see now? What is left to see?

—I might be able to see him there. Maybe even talk to him?

—Talk?!

town chronicler: Now they both unfold, awaken. The man speaks again.

—Your voice.

—It’s back. Yours too.

—How I missed your voice.

—I thought we . . . that we’d never . . .

—I missed your voice more than I missed my own.

—But what is there? There’s no such place. There doesn’t exist!

—If you go there, it does.

—But you don’t come back. No one ever has.

—Because only the dead have gone.

—And you—how will you go?

—I will go there alive.

—But you won’t come back.

—Maybe he’s waiting for us.

—He’s not. It’s been five years and he’s still not. He’s not.

—Maybe he’s wondering why we gave up on him so quickly, the minute they notified us . . .

—Look at me. Look into my eyes. What are you doing to us? It’s me, can’t you see? This is us, the two of us. This is our home. Our kitchen. Come, sit down. I’ll give you some soup.

man:

Lovely—

So lovely—

The kitchen

is lovely

right now,

with you ladling soup.

Here it’s warm and soft,

and steam

covers the cold

windowpane—

town chronicler: Perhaps because of the long years of silence, his hoarse voice fades to a whisper. He does not take his eyes off her. He watches so intently that her hand trembles.

man:

And loveliest of all are your tender,

curved arms.

Life is here,

dear one.

I had forgotten:

life is in the place where you

ladle soup

under the glowing light.

You did well to remind me:

we are here

and he is there,

and a timeless border

stands between us.

I had forgotten:

we are here

and he—

but it’s impossible!

Impossible.

woman:

Look at me. No,

not with that empty gaze.

Stop.

Come back to me,

to us. It’s so easy

to forsake us, and this

light, and tender

arms, and the thought

that we have come back

to life,

and that time

nonetheless

places thin compresses—

man:

No, this is impossible.

It’s no longer possible

that we,

that the sun,

that the watches, the shops,

that the moon,

the couples,

that tree-lined boulevards

turn green, that blood

in our veins,

that spring and autumn,

that people

innocently,

that things just are.

That the children

of others,

that their brightness

and warmness—

woman:

Be careful,

you are saying

things.

The threads

are so fine.

man:

At night people came

bearing news.

They walked a long way,

quietly grave,

and perhaps, as they did so,

they stole a taste, a lick.

With a child’s wonder

they learned they could hold

death in their mouths

like candy made of poison

to which they are miraculously

immune.

We opened the door,

this one. We stood here,

you and I,

shoulder to shoulder,

they

on the threshold

and we

facing them,

and they,

mercifully,

quietly,

stood there and

gave us

the breath

of death.

woman:

It was awfully quiet.

Cold flames lapped around us.

I said: I knew, tonight

you would come. I thought:

Come, noiseful void.

man:

From far away,

I heard you:

Don’t be afraid, you said,

I did not shout

when he was born, and

I won’t shout now either.

woman:

Our prior life

kept growing

inside us

for a few moments longer.

Speech,

movements,

expressions.

man and woman:

Now,

for a moment,

we sink.

Both not saying

the same words.

Not bewailing him,

for now,

but bewailing the music

of our previous life, the

wondrously simple, the

ease, the

face

free of wrinkles.

woman:

But we promised each other,

we swore to be,

to ache,

to miss

him,

to live.

So what is it now

that makes you

suddenly tear away?

man:

After that night

a stranger came and grasped

my shoulders and said: Save

what is left.

Fight, try to heal.

Look into her eyes, cling

to her eyes, always

her eyes—

do not let go.

woman:

Don’t go back there,

to those days. Do not

turn back your gaze.

man:

In that darkness I saw

one eye

weeping

and one eye

crazed.

A human eye,

extinguished,

and the eye

of a beast.

A beast half

devoured in the predator’s mouth,

soaked with blood,

insane,

peered out at me from your eye.

woman:

The earth

gaped open,

gulped us

and disgorged.

Don’t go back

there, do not go,

not even one step

out of the light.

man:

I could not, I dared not

look into your eye,

that eye of

madness,

into your noneness.

woman:

I did not see you,

I did not see

a thing,

from the human eye

or the eye

of the beast.

My soul was uprooted.

It was very cold then

and it is cold

now, too.

Come to sleep,

it’s late.

man:

For five years

we unspoke

that night.

You fell mute,

then I.

For you the quiet

was good,

and I felt it clutch

at my throat. One after

the other, the words

died, and we were

like a house

where the lights

go slowly out,

until a somber silence

fell—

woman:

And in it

I rediscovered you,

and him. A dark mantle

cloaked the three of us,

enfolded us

with him, and we were mute

like him. Three embryos

conceived

by the bane—

man:

And together

we were born

on the other side,

without words,

without colors,

and we learned

to live

the inverse

of life.

(silence)

woman:

See how

word by word

our confiding

is attenuated, macerated,

like a dream

illuminated

by a torch. There was

a certain miracle

within the quietude,

a secrecy

within the silence

that swallowed us up

with him. We were silent there

like him, there we spoke

his tongue.

For words—

how does the drumming

of words voice

his death?!

town chronicler: In the hush that follows her shout, the man retreats until his back touches the wall. Slowly, as if in his sleep, he spreads both arms out and steps along the wall. He circles the small kitchen, around and around her.

man:

Tell me,

tell me

about us

that night.

woman:

I sense something

secret: you are tearing off

the bandages

so you may drink

your blood, provisions

for your journey to there.

man:

That night,

tell me

about us

that night.

woman:

You

circle

around me

like a beast

of prey. You close

in on me

like a nightmare.

That night, that

night.

You want to hear about

that night.

We sat on these chairs,

you there, me here.

You smoked. I remember

your face came

and went in the smoke,

less and less

each time. Less

you, less

man.

man:

We waited

in silence

for morning.

No

morning

came.

No

blood

flowed.

I stood up, I wrapped you

in a blanket,

you gripped my hand, looked

straight into my eyes: the man

and woman

we had been

nodded farewell.

woman:

No

wafted dark

and cold

from the walls,

bound my body,

closed and barred

my womb. I thought:

They are sealing

the home that once

was me.

man:

Speak. Tell me

more. What did we say?

Who spoke first? It was very quiet,

wasn’t it? I remember breaths.

And your hands twisting

together. Everything else

is erased.

woman:

Cold, quiet fire burned

around us.

The world outside shriveled,

sighed, dwindled

into a single dot,

scant,

black,

malignant.

I thought: We must

leave.

I knew: There’s nowhere

left.

man:

The minute

it happened,

the minute

it became—

woman:

In an instant we were cast out

to a land of exile.

They came at night, knocked on our door,

and said: At such and such time,

in this or that place, your son

thus and thus.

They quickly wove

a dense web, hour

and minute and location,

but the web had a hole in it, you

see? The dense web

must have had a hole,

and our son

fell

through.

town chronicler: As she speaks these words, he stops circling her. She looks at him with dulled eyes. Lost, arms limp, he faces her, as if struck at that moment by an arrow shot long ago.

woman:

Will I ever again

see you

as you are,

rather than as

he is not?

man:

I can remember

you without

his noneness—your innocent,

hopeful smile—and I can remember

myself without his noneness. But not

him. Strange: him

without his noneness, I can no longer

remember. And as time goes by

it starts to seem as though

even when he was,

there were signs

of his noneness.

woman:

Sometimes, you know,

I miss

that ravaged,

bloody

she.

Sometimes I believe her

more than I believe

myself.

man:

She is the reason I take

my life

in your hands and ask

you a question

I myself

do not understand:

Will you go with me?

There—

to him?

woman:

That night I thought:

Now we will separate. We cannot live

together any longer. When I tell you

yes,

you will embrace

the no, embrace

the empty space

of him.

man:

How will we cleave together?

I wondered that night.

How will we crave each other?

When I kiss you,

my tongue will be slashed

by the shards of his name

in your mouth—

woman:

How will you look into my eyes

with him there,

an embryo

in the black

of my pupils?

Every look, every touch,

will pierce. How will we love,

I thought that night.

How will we love, when

in deep love

he was

conceived.

man:

The

moment

it happened—

woman:

It happened? Look

at me, tell me:

Did it happen?

man:

And it billows up

abundantly,

an endless

wellspring. And I

know—as long as

I breathe,

I will draw

and drink and drip

that blackened

moment.

woman:

Mourning condemns

the living

to the grimmest solitude,

much like the loneliness

in which disease

enclothes

the ailing.

man:

But in that loneliness,

where—like soul

departing body—

I am torn

from myself, there

I am no longer alone,

no longer alone,

ever since.

And I am not

just one there,

and never will be

only one—

woman:

There I touch his

inner self,

his gulf,

as I have

never touched

a person

in the world—

man:

And he,

he also touches

me from

there, and his touch—

no one has ever

touched me in that way.

(silence)

woman:

If there were such a thing

as there,

and there isn’t,

you know—but if

there were,

they would have already gone

there.

One of everyone would have

got up and gone. And how

far will you go,

and how will you know

your way back,

and what if you don’t

come back, and even if

you find it—

and you won’t,

because it isn’t—

if you find it, you will not

come back,

they will not let you

back, and if you do

come back, how

will you be, you might

come back so different

that you won’t

come back,

and what about me,

how will I be if you don’t

come back, or if

you come back

so different that you don’t

come back?

town chronicler: She gets up and embraces him. Her hands scamper over his body. Her mouth probes his face, his eyes, his lips. From my post in the shadows, outside their window, it looks as if she is throwing herself over him like a blanket on a fire.

woman:

That night I thought:

Now we will never

separate.

Even if we want to,

how can we?

Who will sustain him, who will

embrace

if our two bodies do not

envelop

his empty fullness?

man:

Come,

what could be simpler?

Without mulling or wondering

or thinking: his mother

and father

get up and go

to him.

woman:

In whose eyes will we look to see him,

present and absent?

In whose hand

will we intertwine fingers

to weave him

fleetingly

in our flesh?

Don’t go.

man:

The eyes,

one single

spark

from his eyes—

how can we,

how may we

not try?

woman:

And what will you tell him,

you miserable madman?

What will you say? That hours

after him, the hunger awoke

in you?

That your body

and mine, like a pair

of ticks, clutched

at life and clung

to each other and forced us

to live?

man:

If we can be with him

for one more moment,

perhaps he, too,

will be

for one more

moment,

a look—

a breath—

woman:

And then what?

What will become

of him?

And of us?

man:

Perhaps we’ll die like he did, instantly.

Or, facing him, suspended,

we will swing

between the living

and the dead—

but that we know. Five years

on the gallows of longing.

(pause)

The smell

your body emits

when your grief

plunges on you,

lunges;

the bitter smell in which

I always find

his odor, too.

woman:

His smells—

sweet, sharp,

sour.

His washed hair

his bathed flesh

the simple spices

of the body—

man:

The way he used to sweat after a game,

remember?

Burning with excitement—

woman:

Oh, he had smells for every season:

the earthy aromas of autumn hikes,

rain evaporating from wool sweaters,

and when you worked the spring fields together,

odor from the sweat of your brows,

the vapors of working men, filled the house—

man:

But most of all I loved the summer,

with its notes of peaches

and plums,

their juices running down his cheeks—

woman:

And when he came back

from a campfire with friends,

night and smoke

on his breath—

man:

Or when he returned

from the beach,

a salty tang

in his hair—

woman:

On his skin.

The scent of his baby blanket,

the smell of his diapers

when he drank only breast milk,

then seemingly

one moment later—

man:

The sheets of a boy

in love.

woman:

Sometimes, when we are

together, your sorrow

grips my sorrow,

my pain bleeds into yours,

and suddenly the echo of

his mended, whole body

comes from inside us,

and then one might briefly imagine—

he is here.

(pause)

I would go

to the end

of the world with you,

you know. But you are not

going to him, you are going

somewhere else, and there

I will not go, I cannot.

I will not.
David Grossman

About David Grossman

David Grossman - Falling Out of Time

Photo © Peter-Andreas Hassiepen

David Grossman was born in Jerusalem, where he still lives. He is the best-selling author of many works of fiction, nonfiction, and children’s literature, which have been translated into thirty-six languages. His work has also appeared in The New Yorker. He is the recipient of numerous awards, including the French Chevalier de L’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, the Buxtehuder Bulle in Germany, Rome’s Premio per la Pace e l’Azione Umanitaria, the Premio Ischia International Award for Journalism, Israel’s Emet Prize, and the 2010 Frankfurt Peace Prize. 

Praise

Praise

“A strange and riveting book.” —The New York Times Book Review

“An almost unbearably personal work. . . . The monologues evoke both the raw declarations of Athenian tragedy and the homespun lamentations of Robert Frost’s narrative poem.” —The Wall Street Journal

“Spare and poetic.” —The New York Review of Books

“A richly emotional, mystical and philosophical tapestry . . . [Falling Out of Time] deserves recognition among the greatest works in the brave and indispensable tradition of art that pushes back against catastrophe.” —Jewish Daily Forward

“Slim in dimension but as solid as sculpted rock. . . . Although it grows from a private, incomparable ordeal, this noble fable speaks for all.” —The Independent (London)

“Part narrative poem, part play, part novel . . . [a] poignant study of bereavement and loss.” —Financial Times

“[Grossman is] the greatest Israeli writer of his generation. . . . Talmudic, polyphonic, yearning, [Falling Out of Time] comes from a place of pain and darkness and is acutely moving.” —The Daily Telegraph (London)

“The language of its composition makes it particular to Israel, but once translated [Falling Out of Time] becomes universal.” —The Times Literary Supplement (London)

“Grossman is perhaps Israel’s most important contemporary novelist. . . . [Falling Out of Time] resembles a play by Beckett or a Greek tragedy. . . . A haunting, affecting and even beautiful book.” —The Toronto Star

“It’s not a novel, but a mixture of poetry, prose and drama . . . as true and as powerful as CS Lewis’s great A Grief Observed.” —The Times (London)

“A book that needed to be written. . . . Poetic. . . . [A] triumph.” —The Observer (London)

“At once more universal and more personal than anything [Grossman] has written before.” —Sunday Times (London)

Falling Out of Time is short, and clearly a deeply personal book, but its importance and impact ought not to be underestimated.” —The Guardian (London)

“A significant new departure in literature.” —Jewish Chronicle

“Sensual and uncompromising. . . . Written with such simplicity it appears to be speaking directly to the reader, Falling Out Of Time is at times Biblical in its imagery, at others weird and fantastical. . . . It’s a measure of Grossman’s clarity of thought and his theatrical timing that one reaches its end and feels, in some small way, glad to have been in his characters’ company however grim the road they travel.” —The Herald Scotland

“An impassioned exploration of existential questions about life and death. . . . The precision and sensory depth of Grossman’s language renders this unconventional work an unforgettable and magnificent document of suffering.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Reader's Guide|About the Book|Author Biography|Discussion Questions|Suggestions

About the Book

The questions, discussion topics, and reading list that follow are intended to enhance your reading group’s discussion of Falling Out of Time, internationally acclaimed author David Grossman’s powerful, genre-defying exploration of grief and bereavement as experienced by residents of a small village.

About the Guide

Part prose, part play, and pure poetry, David Grossman’s Falling Out of Time is a powerful exploration of mortality, mourning, and the long good-bye that follows the death of a loved one. As linguistically impressive as it is emotionally wrought, Grossman’s trim fable unpacks the complexities of grief as they are experienced on a personal and collective level, leading readers on a journey to define the universal, yet often indescribable, feeling of loss.

Set in a small seaside village, the characters of Falling Out of Time are bound by grief: all are parents who have experienced the death of a child, and all struggle with pain they are unable to articulate. The book opens in the home of two such characters, a man—simply described as Walking Man—and his wife, who are mourning the death of their son. Unable to bear the burden of his grief in the confines of his home, the man sets out on a journey to reach his dead son. He begins to walk around the village in ever-widening circles, reflecting on his sorrow as he paces. One by one, he is joined by a lively cross section of townspeople—from the Midwife to the Net-Mender to the Duke—each with his or her own story of loss to reflect upon. As they walk, questions about death and mortality are raised: Is there an afterlife? Is peace of mind attainable after such a loss? Is it possible, even for a fleeting moment, to trade places with the dead, to free them of their fate? The collectivity of the group serves as catharsis, ultimately turning these individuals’ private experiences of pain into a comforting hymn of hope. Elegantly economical and intensely moving, Grossman’s book is a singular exploration of how to live life in the face of tremendous loss.

About the Author

David Grossman was born in Jerusalem, where he still lives. He is the best-selling author of many works of fiction, nonfiction, and children’s literature, which have been translated into thirty-six languages. He is the recipient of numerous awards, including the French Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, the Buxtehuder Bulle in Germany, Rome’s Premio per la Pace e l’Azione Umanitaria, the Premio Ischia International Award for Journalism, Israel’s Emet Prize, and the 2010 Frankfurt Peace Prize.

Discussion Guides

1. As Falling Out of Time opens, Walking Man and his wife are embroiled in a tense discussion about whether or not he should embark on his journey. Why does his wife protest the decision? How does her perspective on her husband’s journey change in the course of the book?

2. On page 20, Walking Man’s wife asks him: “Will I ever again / see you / as you are, / rather than as / he is not?” How is the relationship between husband and wife changed by the loss of a child? How does it affect specific couples in the novel—the Town Chronicler and his wife, the Midwife and the Cobbler?

3. The Town Chronicler is initially introduced as a sort of omnipresent force who objectively catalogs the events of the town from a distance. Yet as the book progresses, his own melancholia is revealed. What initiates this change? What does this 

4. Walking Man begins his journey by circling his own home—in hopes of getting his wife to join him—and gradually widens his path to cover greater swaths of the town. Why do you think the author chose to make his path circular rather than linear?

5. On page 50, the Duke calls himself “an impostor of sorts, a sham / pretending to be an everyman.” Over the course of the narrative, how does the Duke’s admission of loss bring him closer to the townspeople? Does the shared experience of loss make him an “everyman”?

6. Explore the relationship between the Duke and the Town Chronicler. What did you make of the edict from the Duke? Did you believe that the Duke ordered the Town Chronicler not to mention his loss, or do you think that the Town Chronicler’s reticence developed as a coping mechanism?

7. The Centaur initially challenges the authority of the Town Chronicler, taunting him for his government role, but on page 174, he describes him as a “friend.” How does this tension eventually lead to mutual respect? How does it help to unite the townspeople?

8. At the beginning of the narrative, the Town Chronicler observes that the mute net-mender has broken her nine-year silence and that her voice is “heavenly.” How does this description contrast with her physical description? When the Duke refers to her as “Lady of the Nets” on page 160, is it done ironically or as a sign of respect?

9. Why do you think the Midwife stutters throughout? What leads her husband to think that “her words are / hardly broken / anymore!” on page 131?

10. Falling Out of Time is a unique blend of prose, poetry, and drama. Why do you think the author chose to structure the narrative in such a way?

11. In the first section of the book, the dialogue moves from character to character, but in Part II, the townspeople’s voices are often considered collectively as “Walkers.” What does this say about the shared experience of grief? How does the similarity of their experiences bring a leveling effect to their society?

12. On pages 147–48, several characters struggle to remember who they are. What does this say about the shift in identity after the death of a child? How does memory interfere with their ability to redefine themselves?

13. Several characters express regrets about how they interacted with their children, or about how time was spent with a child. Whose admissions had the greatest impact on you?

14. Why do you think the author chose to represent the writer character as a Centaur? How does the Centaur’s struggle to write reflect the mourner’s communal struggle to communicate?

15. On page 160, the Walkers state that “poetry / is the language / of my grief.” Do you agree? How is this reflected in the text?

16. On page 94, the Centaur expresses his struggle to articulate death: “Death will deathify, / or is it deathened? Deatherized? / Deathered?” What does the Centaur’s “little game” say about the limitations—or flexibility—of language? How does the playful transformation of the word “death” limit or enhance its power for the speaker?

17. What does the appearance of the boy on page 189 signify? How do the townspeople react to hearing his voice? Explore the notion that “there / is breath / inside the pain.”

Suggested Readings

A Grief Observed by C. S.Lewis
The Child in Time by Ian McEwan
Mortality by Christopher Hitchens
The Still Point of the Turning World by Emily Rapp
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

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