I was in my parents’ living room the first time I tried to watch Magnolia. For as long as I can remember, my family has done this thing when we watch movies together. Right at the most emotional or romantic moment in the film, someone will pat the left part of his or her chest and say, as dramatically as possible, “Gets ya right here.” Then someone else would repeat it and pretty soon no one would be watching the movie anymore. We would even do this when guests were around.
My family has traditionally traveled a couple times a year to be with my mother’s family, just north of Pittsburgh. Our gathering place was originally my grandparents’ home: several acres of magnificent rural land that is still so vivid to me now. My mother had four siblings, and in addition to my own four siblings and me, one of my aunts also had five kids who were close to us in age. These cousins have often felt like a second set of siblings. We all ran amok all over that land, but my main partners-in-crime were Shane and an older female cousin ours. Shane was never afraid to get dirty or wet, and Samara and I would at least follow, if not embrace, his lead.
In wrestling with Philip Roth’s 1998, Pulitzer-prize winning novel, American Pastoral, it is useful to remember that the book’s narrator, Nathan Zuckerman, offered a kind of disclaimer to his story: “The fact remains that getting people right is not what living is all about anyway. It’s getting them wrong that is living, getting them wrong and wrong and wrong and then, on careful reconsideration, getting them wrong again. That’s how we know we’re alive: we’re wrong.”