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Lifelines: The Book That Sets Me Straight

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Carolyn See walked into my house, twenty-some years ago, and started in simultaneously on a bottle of white wine and the plot of the novel she has completed that very day. Golden Days, about which she had divulged not so much up to that point, was about life in southern California's Topanga Canyon after the nuclear holocaust. Our other guests were mesmerized. I retreated into the kitchen and wondered what to say.

No, it was worse than that. Having Carolyn as a friend was on my very short list of life imperatives but I was one of those hard-liners who believed that contemplating life after a nuclear war was the surest way to guarantee one. Didn't we trivialize nuclear combat by implying that we could survive it? Didn't anyone remember On the Beach?

As a child, I'd been kept at school during the Cuban missile crisis because the principal thought we'd be blown off the map before we could run home, and he couldn't stand the notion of all us sweet kids turned into tater tots by the side of the road. I was raised under a mushroom cloud of fear. I could not imagine how Carolyn and I were going to hang out and have fun now that she had uttered the unspeakable at book length.

And then I read Golden Days, and re-read it, and went through a phase where I bought extras to hand out when people came over, like after-dinner mints. The question at the center of my journalist life was too often, Says who? Carolyn glided instead through the realm of Why not, of Try this on for size, of sand like glass and a woman with jewels embedded in the backs of her hands.

Golden Days is everything I can't prove but know, now, for a certainty, thanks to Carolyn. I won't quote the passage I read on the days when life gives me a hard time, because you have to read the whole book, build up a head of steam, before you can fully appreciate the last pages. I will say only that it begins with "Half a life before" and ends with the end of the book, and I defy you to get there without feeling better.

I don't mean feeling better like you just had a great meal or a fun date or even, in this day and age, a promising job interview. I mean hearing a character say, "I see abundance everywhere!" although by the time he says it abundance means something quite different than it does at the end of a ten-course tasting menu or during Fashion Week and believing him with every little molecule of your being. Golden Days doesn't defy reason, though it may seem to until you get in the groove. It wafts above reason, where we all could stand to spend a little time.

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