I return today to Karen Joy Fowler's Wit's End and to some of the lines in the novel I thought interesting enough to make note of as I read. Here are three more worthy of comment.
They might have been awkward silences, or they might have been companionable. How did you tell the difference?
Last night I watched an epsisode of Newhart in which Dick and Joanna see a marriage counselor because Joanna is concerned about the awkward silences when they are alone together after 18 years of marriage. Of course, they discover those are actually companionable silences, and they go home much happier.
In real life I think we can usually distinguish between awkward and companionable silences. I've noticed that when you go somewhere with friends, whether it's a daylong excursion or just an outing to the movies, the drive to the destination is always filled with lively conversation, while the drive home tends to be much more subdued. This is partly due to the fact that everyone is tired, but it may also be because the topics of conversation have been pretty much exhausted. The silence is more companionable than awkward. If, however, two people are dating for the first time and after 30 minutes neither can think of anything to say, that's awkward.
My wife and I once entertained another couple in our home whom we had never met before. They turned out to be as introverted as we were, and there were a few awkward silences during the evening. But I noticed the other man, a pastor, had a neat trick for getting past these silences. He would look about the room and see something on a wall or on a shelf and ask a question about it. Who is that in the picture? Where did you find that? Immediately the conversation would start flowing again.
So Addison was compelled into a life of deceit and charade, which is what always happens whenever honesty is forced upon someone.
That may seem like a contradiction, but I suspect it is true. I recall reading somewhere that married couples who pledge to tell each other everything are more likely to divorce than those who don't. That makes sense to me. I don't recommend lying in a marriage, but I don't recommend always revealing everything either. There are some things a spouse is probably better off not knowing -- the details about former boyfriends or girlfriends, for example. Does a husband really need to know about the man his wife works with who flirts with her on occasion? Does a wife need to know her husband saw the neighbor lady in a bikini in her backyard and enjoyed the view? Those who pledge to keep no secrets may find themselves either revealing too much or feeling guilty about not revealing enough.
The actor was campy and sardonic. Sarcasm without wit. Rima had once taught middle school; she'd had enough sarcasm without wit to last a lifetime.
Most sarcasm comes without wit, it seems to me. That's because sarcasm is easy, while wit is not. Even professional comedians and sitcom writers sometimes try to get by with just the sarcasm, hoping it will pass for wit. It doesn't.