Mouth to Mouth: Antoine Wilson

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Mouth to Mouth: Antoine Wilson

Mouth to Mouth: Antoine Wilson

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Joan Didion, who died Thursday, left a seismic impact on the literary world and her home state of California. Rarely does an audio book keep me up, I usually doze off spending my morning hours trying to figure out where in the book to begin again. But at midnight I had to reluctantly turn this audio off and save the end for my morning walk. I had managed to listen to the first three hours and knew it was only becoming more and more difficult to hit the stop key. Perhaps it will be more engaging to those readers who enjoy reading about art curators and art galleries. I like a pretty picture as much as the next person, but the business side of this world does not really interest me. I kept reading and reading to get to the promised twist that everyone has been raving about, but, honestly, the biggest surprise for me is that the ending surprised anyone. It seemed like the most obvious conclusion.

Now that we've finished all that, I just found myself wondering what the point was when it was all over. Not what was the point of the book, that was quite clear and as I mentioned it was effectively made. But why tell this story when it has, frankly, been told so many times already? Mouth to Mouth opens with the narrator reflecting on his recent red-eye. Soon after that, he and Jeff Cook reunite, and the latter shares a story of a woman who only flies unconscious, as well as his feelings about going under general anesthesia for a surgery. How do the themes of these narratives—and the rest of the lead-up to Jeff’s saga, including the narrator’s memories and observations—echo throughout the novel?She had been "...the first thing he thought of upon waking and the last he thought of before sleep descended". They had broken up. The beach parking lot was empty before sunrise. "The immensity of the ocean...[he stepped] barefoot on the cold sand, feeling a sense of liberation at his own insignificance." "Out of the corner of his eye-a dark form on the surface of the water-a swimmer making for shore...something was wrong...He knew with certainty that the crisis at hand was his alone to's interceding or not could equally represent fate." We hadn’t been friends, exactly, barely acquaintances, but Jeff was one of those minor players from the past who claimed for himself an outsize role in my memories. Put together a list of other novels that explore art, identity, corruption, and the tangled webs we weave, and discuss how these selections connect to Mouth to Mouth. How does form affect your reading? What did you appreciate about Wilson’s approach?

Marooned at JFK in between flights from Los Angeles to Frankfurt, our nameless narrator hears a name over the loudspeaker. It’s Jeff Cook, a fellow UCLA alum who stands out in the narrator’s mind despite their barely being acquaintances. Formerly a “thrift-store Adonis,” Jeff now embodies a familiar relationship with luxury, and after a warm reintroduction to the narrator, he invites him to the first-class lounge. Seated by the window drinking the bar’s complimentary beers, Jeff begins to recount a dramatic turning point in his life. One day before dawn, fresh from a breakup with his college girlfriend, he drove to the beach, where he happened to see a man floating facedown and motionless in the early morning surf. He saves his life, and the man is whisked away by paramedics. Once stagnant, Jeff becomes fixated on the person he will learn is Francis Arsenault, a notorious, high-powered art dealer in Beverly Hills. His obsession leads him to a receptionist job at Francis’s gallery, setting off a series of favors, chance encounters, and deceptions that leave the narrator—and the reader—second-guessing all that came before.The narrator turns up at JFK for a flight that is now delayed. There, he runs into an old acquaintance from university called Jeff. Jeff then proceeds to tell him what's happened in his life in the twenty or so years in which they haven't seen each other, beginning with how he saved the life of a drowning man and this action sent his life spiralling off in a direction he never predicted (or did he?).

Inspired by David Copperfield, Kingsolver crafts a 21st-century coming-of-age story set in America’s hard-pressed rural South. He had undergone surgery recently, nothing serious, or not life-threatening at least, but he had ended up terrified that he wouldn’t wake up again. It did happen to people. And though such accidents had become exceedingly rare, he couldn’t help but imagine his going to sleep and never waking up, what it would do to his children—he had two as well—and to his wife. The whole episode had disturbed him greatly. I’d said it before and meant it every time, but people always took it as an expression of false modesty. Jeff pulled a lifeless Francis from the water 20 years prior, and applied CPR so long and hard he broke the man’s sternum. Eventually Francis came around, but would only tell people he’d broken the ribs in a “squash accident”. WHY? In my wife’s childhood home,” he says, “there are books about murder everywhere, and that has to do with character, who people are when faced with the highest stakes imaginable. But having experienced my brother’s murder? I still don’t love true crime.”

It was he. But Jeff had had famously long, dark flowing hair, not this cropped salt-and-pepper business. Plus he’d put on weight, become more solid in the way so many of us did after college, continuing to grow into manhood long after we thought we’d arrived. At first I wasn’t sure about this book. It was interesting enough to keep my attention, but nothing really blew me away until the ending. That alone in my opinion is worth the read. By the end of the slim volume Antoine Wilson has made sure to wallop the reader with the realization that the story has been eerier than they ever realized." — Entertainment Weekly

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