The Discreet Pleasures of Rejection
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"A modern fable . . ."
The Discreet Pleasure of Rejection: A modern fable of the arrested development of an existential soul struggling to ignore hope and success.
In an apartment building full of prostitutes plying their trade lives Virgil, age 31 and weighing 159 pounds. Virgil works at the Svengali advertising agency. On one particular night, he comes home from work and turns on his answering machine. It is Clara. She’s breaking up with him, calling it quits. The trouble is that Virgil doesn’t remember ever dating Clara. He’s been alone for some time. He must be ill.
Though he doesn’t have an appointment, Virgil goes to see his psychiatrist, Dr Zetkin, taking the answering machine. There must be something wrong. He’s losing his mind. Dr. Zetkin assures him that is not the case. If he’s not crazy, then he must be dying. A CAT scan is arranged and in the meantime Virgil calls the phone and electric companies to have these services shut off, giving the excuse that he is dying. He writes a letter canceling his lease stating the same reason: he does not have long to live. The CAT scan is negative. Virgil will live, and he does, spending every night for a week with friends consoling him over being dumped by girl he cannot remember. He can’t tell his friends he doesn’t remember ever dating Clara, but that is the least of his troubles. The real problem is how could he have forgotten her and why can’t he remember.
In Virgil, author Martin Page creates a slightly neurotic young man whose life is organized and safe. Virgil is a refugee from his twisted youth. His parents—performers in a knife-throwing act—traveled the countryside dependent on the whims of weather and finances. As Virgil enjoys The Discreet Pleasure of Rejection and being the center of attention for a while, Page methodically unravels Virgil’s careful life and the underpinnings of his world, forcing him to take a good, hard look at the reality of his existence.
Wry observations about mundane places like McDonald’s where even the homeless could “take refuge somewhere warm for hours at a time, for a modest sum,” and advertising where “political disputes were like friendly farces in which adversaries clashed without really being against one another” pepper Page’s observations.
The world Page creates is a world of contradictions, a world where an adult can earn an excellent living and remain Peter Pan. Flawless prose, dry wit and keen insight make The Discreet Pleasures of Rejection a pleasure to read. I enjoyed my time with Virgil who is not quite a hypochondriac or a neurotic and yet clings to both to give his life flavor and meaning. Virgil reminded me of a successful bullfighter bravely facing his opponent and turning just in time to avoid being gored by love and marriage.
Reviewer: J. M. Cornwell