Sheesh, I'm so sorry, you guys. That's what I kept thinking as I was reading Part Three. Why did I choose The Plague for us all to read and not, like, James and the Giant Peach? This is too grim to be reading right now.
Why are we doing this to ourselves?
I guess it's because we want to face things as they are, as they really happen, rather than escaping into mindless fantasy. And also because this novel will never again reach us as deeply as it does right now. That said: Can you please send me a photo of something happy? I'm serious. I want happy photos for the next Quarantine Club post. That's an assignment. Details farther down in this post.
The photos I have been looking at, of what's going on in the world today, are hard to process.
As I finished reading Part Three, refrigerated trucks were appearing in New York City, ready to receive the corpses that can't fit anywhere else. In Spain, they're turning ice rinks into makeshift morgues.
Meanwhile in the book, the bodies are piling up on the street so quickly that authorities in Oran are turning streetcar lines into corpse-distribution systems. Vast pits are being dug for group burials. Cemeteries are exhuming buried remains and cremating them so as to create more room in the ground. Residents are setting fire to their own houses, because they think it might help fight the plague or because they have lost their minds, and just stand there watching as others run into their burning houses to steal things.
One of the bright spots of our weekly Quarantine Club meetings so far has been reading each person's favorite sentences, but how can anyone have a "favorite" sentence in Part Three, and where the options are, like...
• "Two looters were shot, but we may doubt if this made much impression on the others; with so many deaths taking place every day, these two executions went unheeded."
• "So completely were they dominated by plague that sometimes the one thing they aspired to was the long sleep it brought, and they caught themselves thinking, 'A good thing if I get plague and have done with it!'"
• "In a patch of open ground dotted with lentiscus trees at the far end of the cemetery, two big pits had been dug. One was reserved for the men, the other for the women."
...and so on?
So, we're not doing "favorite" sentences this time. We're doing "scariest" sentences.
Or even just scariest words. "Recrudescence" and "necropolis" are up there for me.
Plus, did you notice how all of our favorite characters are absent? Camus writes Part Three in a kind of bird's-eye view of mass casualties, and there are no close-up scenes of Dr. Reiux, Tarrou, Rambert, et al. Nor hanging out with them in these pages; just fires and group burials and wind and despair.
Occasionally, as I read Part Three, a glimmer of hope crept in, just by comparing my circumstance to the circumstances in the book. When I got to the words "the plague had gradually killed off in all of us the faculty not of love only but even of friendship," I thought: Well at least that's not my experience of the coronavirus. I still have friends I can Facetime with. I still have a boyfriend I can call. And I have all my new friends in the Quarantine Club.
Speaking of this club we're in together, I have two new members to introduce you to:
This photo from Charles brightened my day, and inspired the idea for your photo assignment...
Send me a photo of an object that sits with you in your quarantine, something that warms you up or makes you smile. Ideally, it's something you can see from your reading chair. I want pictures of fireplaces, house plants, cozy slippers, flannel pajamas, silly paintings hanging on your wall, photos of yourself or family members on vacation in happier times, bottles of wine, dogs, cats, babies, sausages, curtains you sewed yourself that you're very proud of—anything that warms you up and makes you smile.
We need to look at things that will cut against the funereal atmosphere in the book, and the funereal atmosphere in reality itself. We need lightness and warmth and friendship.
Plus, wasn't looking at photos of everyone's reading chairs fun? We need more photos like that. Photos will help us all get to know each other a little better: firstname.lastname@example.org.
I'll go first: Here's a photo of my Christmas tree. Yes, it's a miniature Christmas tree, and yes, it's fake, but I have this Christmas tree displayed in my apartment year-round, because it makes me happy. I like the lights on it. I like the greenery and the lack of having to water it.
As difficult as Part Three was for me to read—almost no mention of the characters we've come to know, very little dialogue, unrelenting misery—every time I looked over at my little tree, which I can see from my reading chair, I felt slightly better.
So... do you have any objects like that with you in your quarantine? Show me!
Meanwhile, for the comment section on this post...
A. Was this section as difficult for you to read as it was for me? Why do you think Camus left out our favorite characters, dialogue, etc.?
B. Is there anything that has given you joy in the past week, either in the book or in real life?
C. What was the scariest sentence in Part Three?
The Quarantine Club "meets" in the comments section of a weekly Slog post that goes up Tuesday late afternoon. A few thoughts on the opening pages are here. Part One discussion group is here: 🐀. Part Two discussion group is here: 🐀🐀. Part Three discussion group is here: 🐀🐀🐀. Part Four discussion group is here: 🐀🐀🐀🐀.