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Rat Race

I’ve recently developed what I know to be an annoying habit of laughing – no, really guffawing – at other people’s candor. While I’d like to imagine such outbursts as mutually enjoyable celebrations of our capacity to reach across even the stuffiest of social conventions, it occurs to me now that a great many of these exchanges furthermore include some measure of misfortune, as in:

“So how is Sophie/Jonah/Raven enjoying the first year of college?”

“It’s been a train wreck, if you really want to know.”

“I do! But first I’d like to hear about your fabulous new home!”

“A money pit, honestly. Low ceilings. Sometimes I swear I just want to hang myself.”


So I’m sorry. To anyone this might have offended. Know I am in awe of you, though, that my amusement is in direct proportion to your fearlessness, and not, in fact, my relief at not being you.

Know that I carry on this way sometimes also in libraries and bookstores when a story intended for young children upends our blandest expectations of the form. There is, of course, a great deal to recommend the sort of originalist fables that honor considerate behavior as a means to unanticipated wealth, friends, royalty and happiness-ever-after, though I wonder if we shouldn’t meanwhile be administering just a tiny dose of nihilism before the free-for-all of school. Who doesn’t include among their earliest childhood memories some soullessly staring hooligan making off with their Barbie, their Pokémon, their Action Jackson, and daring us to do anything about it? Can we ever truly recover from such an outrage? Is there really no God?

Maybe you’ve moved on. Still, for some of us at least, there remains the giddy recognition of a paradigm careening wildly out of bounds. 

“This is rat law,” begins Alexis Deacon’s and Viviane Schwarz’s Cheese Belongs to You! – most of whose following 25 pages document all of the circumstances where cheese belongs to everyone else: Bigger rats. Scary rats. Hairy rats. Which pretty much jibes with my recollection of kindergarten, and really every year since. Granted, there’s a party in the end, though not before visiting the sort of chaos that reminds us how precarious our democratic arrangements can often turn out. Say what you want about morality, but laws are finally broken to be made: bending and cracking and healing to suit the framers of tomorrow, not the prophets of the past. This is a view perhaps more candid than reassuring, with not a little slapstick mixed in to pass the pages. Sharing may be caring, but then sometimes it’s only what happens when you have tried everything else.

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