The Hundreds by Lauren Berlant and Kathleen Stewart

The Hundreds takes ordinary events and condenses them into hundred-word snippets, which makes them into even more of a slog than when they happened but can sometimes tip an occurrence into a different light than originally expected. One of the passages, “Anxiety made a nest in her”, deviated away from the standard form of most passages in an interesting way: “No new situation is safe — not miniature golf, not the supermarket, not the shoe store where there might be a rule against walking in the shoes to see if they fit. She wants all the rules posted everywhere. She thinks we’re rule breakers and we’ll get her in trouble. She’s in her own and trying to get oriented.” This passage in particular is different because something happens in it; we are introduced to a character, (her, name irrelevant), and an event proceeds: in Philly they are caught in a rainstorm and “then we were running in the rain, screaming alarmed, excited, it could have gone either way”.

Another passage, the first one in the book, (“First Things”) describes a laundry list of events in a pleasant way. “Every day a friend across the ocean wakes up to suicidal thoughts. Another friend takes a drink to eat clean and another eats a candy bar in bed before washing the sheets, doing laundry naked to ensure soft sleeps.” These two lines both have a rhythm to them: “ensure soft sleeps” with the s sound, “ocean” juxtaposed with “suicidal”. This selection takes a common conception and twists it back on you: “Some use the quiet time to do the best things quiet time allows. Some people waste it, which is not the opposite of using it well.” Similar to the phrase “not unkindly”, this sentence evokes the feeling of opposition but switches it while you’re looking directly at it: ‘not the opposite’. It’s not the opposite, but it is not the same; two concepts sitting side-by-side in the same corner, not touching.

Some of The Hundreds seems is meta, reflective of itself as a piece: Dilations tells us “The Hundreds is an experiment in keeping up with what’s going on.” Or with “Form, though, is not the same thing as shape: and a concept extends via the tack words take”. Sometimes The Hundreds is an exploration of routine, of commonplace. “Making money, making dinner, taking care of people and stupid shit, getting sick or getting well, getting into and out of what presented, I ended up with a writer’s life.” (From Writing, Life). The use of a list here is interesting without being overblown; the repetition and twist of each item is familiar to my own works.

Sometimes there are little glimmers of stories; “Today in Political Emotions” gives us Kenny, who is “a good guy who has just never been able to keep it together”. We follow the narrator to the gym to see if “Bush, one of the homeless ministers at my gym” can help Kenny out, and Bush tries to diagnose Kenny with a problem. There’s an interesting simile in “and he started on what drugs is he, what stealing is he, what’s his game, it was like a film where the shadow of a monster appears on the wall although the actor’s body remains ordinary, unremarkable.” The narrator’s trust in the homeless minister is shattered, but their day goes on and we never hear about Kenny again. What happened to him? The Hundreds seems to not be interested in telling a story, and maybe that’s okay! That’s not what it’s trying to do! Our lives aren’t stories, nothing big necessarily really happens, we are all just slogging along in hundreds of words, coming up with metaphors that don’t make sense and shouldn’t. It would be interesting to read this book, one passage at a time, over many weeks and days and months, consuming each passage individually, enjoyably. But instead I read all of it in the span of three hours sitting in my living room, drinking a cup of ginger tea, and it gave me a stomachache. The book, I think, not the tea. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing; I had a lot fo strong feelings about the book. It was very evocative! It reminded me viscerally of a song that keeps repeating the same beat and never changes or drops the bass.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s