Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Gravitational anarchy

A recent podcast from WNYC's "Radiolab" featured actress Hope Davis reading long passages from an absolutely fascinating--and at times freaky--account of a long-undiagnosed illness that afflicted a Manhattan librarian in 1957. The account, which is told for the most part in the woman's own words, comes from a collection of midcentury New Yorker writer Berton Roueche's The Medical Detectives (1980). As I tend to do with podcasts, I listened to this on while running . . . late on a snowy evening along the deserted lakefront path, lit only by the chilly moon . . . and the effect was powerful, and even scary.

It starts simply:
I got up to join [my husband, Frank], and as I did--as I started across the room--I felt the floor sort of shake. It only lasted a moment--less than that, I suppose. Just an eyeblink. But the floor very definitely moved. "Good heavens!" I said. "What was that?" Frank just looked at me. His face was a perfect blank. It was obvious he didn't know what I was talking about.
It happened again. And again. And it got worse:
Sometimes it was though I were sinking into the floor. The room would tilt and I'd take a step, and the floor was like snow. It would give under my foot and I'd sink what felt like an inch, and other times it was the reverse--the floor would rise to meet me. . . . By then, it wasn't simply the floor that moved. When the floor tilted, the walls of the room tilted with it.
For the reader (or the listener), the instability culminates in an absolutely terrifying trip through an underground pedway that reads like a nightmare out of Bolano; for the poor woman who suffered through this, it eventually culminates in a diagnosis, and, fortunately, remission. But I'll leave that part a mystery for now. The essay is short, and the podcast, even shorter, is available at the "Radiolab" site. If what I've quoted creeps you out as much as it did me, you definitely should check out the rest.

1 comment:

  1. How cool... I think I'm still in love with Hope Davis character from Next Stop Wonderland.