Please see the reviews in Prick of the Spindle and The Scrambler (links on this website) for good synopses of the book.
David gives an overview of the book:
The Disappearances (2000)
Sometimes a co-worker disappeared. (I think of a fifteenth century map with ships poised to drop off the end of the earth into a boiling pit of dragons.)
Let’s say it was a fellow in his early thirties. An assistant to Alma Henson Bing, head of accounts receivable. You’d bump into him every day or two in the echo-filled stairwell, the drafty, lugubrious reading room, the men’s room with its turn-of-the-century fixtures and its chemical incense of disinfectant.
Then one day he wasn’t around anymore. Weeks could go by, but sooner or later, you’d fall prey to those gloomy intimations that accompany unexplained departures. Had person X been fired? Replaced by a piece of high-powered software? Was he lying in a hospital, lashed to the bed like Gulliver by a network of wires and plastic tubes, the victim of a car crash, a rare disease, a random encounter with an urban shooter?
Eventually a cryptic notice like a minimalist poem would arrive by email from the executive director, a woman named Mary Kay Beauregard Jackson:
William C. Williams, an assistant to Alma Henson Bing, recently left the Liberal Religion Center.
We wish him well in any future endeavors.
Terse missives like this one, with its suggestion that there might be no future endeavors, that now that he’d left the LRC, Mr. Williams’s life was essentially over, struck me as unnecessarily callous, especially coming from a high official of a church—not one of these angry neo-Calvinist outfits that have sprouted up all over like some invasive southern weed, but a fine old New England denomination dating back to the Transcendentalists and professing humane, enlightened views on any topic you could name. Yet despite my own high-mindedness when it came to Mary Kay’s emails, inevitably a year, even six months, later, I had a hard time forming a mental image of the missing person, the desaparecida or desaparecido.
Maybe it was cosmic payback for these small acts of forgetting, but in the fullness of time I, too, disappeared. (A month or two after I left, I’m sure, an email went forth from the office of Mary Kay Beauregard Jackson: “Mickey Kronenberg, a writer for our magazine, recently left the Liberal Religion Center. / We wish him well in any future endeavors.”)
Today I live a life of subsidized torpor. Most mornings, I pretend I’m still at work, breakfasting early and then repairing to my office in the turret of our wobbly Victorian—down here in blue collar Quincy, Mass., home to the bones of old John Adams, defunct granite quarries, and a World War II shipyard. A town mentioned rarely if at all in the writings of Transcendentalists. Once seated at my desk, I will email old friends, fiddle with the house accounts, play a bracing round or two of Minesweeper or solitaire. But in the early afternoon, my “lunch hour,” when I venture out for a run on the beach, the neighborhood streets are nearly empty. All adults are at work, all children in school. Even the beach itself is empty, except for the seagulls that congregate in strutting, noisy bands around the storm sewer outfall. A solitary figure, I run the length of the crumbling seawall as the miniature waves of Quincy Bay lap against a muddy shore. All in all, I feel as if I’m shirking my duties as a middle-class Euro-American person. Before my LRC days, I eked out a living at the margins—cab driver, part-time writing instructor, freelance reporter for advertising supplements—and I fear I’m headed back that way, toward the land of low status and shaky self-identity.
On the brighter side, there’s my severance pay, doled out in semimonthly infusions, the same as my former salary. And lately I’ve discovered I can hold back the thoughts of what comes next by pounding on the keyboard of our second-hand computer, with its thirteen-inch screen and thrumming fan, revisiting in my feature writer’s overheated prose my seven fat years in the religion business and the factors leading up to my…my involuntary separation.
Actually the factor, since there was only one—the LRC’s antiracism program, which started the year before I arrived, gathered steam while I worked there, and continues to this day. The job, more than any I’d had before, fit my needs and talents, not to mention my politics, and yet by the time of my disappearance, I already wanted to be gone. Oddly for a hardheaded fellow like me, someone who came to his job at the church with no special feeling for things of the spirit, I had developed during my seven years what I cannot help but call a spiritual unease about the place.
M.F.A. (Arkansas, 1975). My novel The Antiracism Trainings was published earlier this year by BlazeVOX [books]—to glowing reviews in several literary magazines. My fiction and essays have appeared in North American Review, Transatlantic Review, Intro, The...