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A Tragic Honesty

"And where are the windows? Where does the light come in?"—as ever, in the implication that we’re human, we fail, but in our common humanity we belong to one another for better or worse, whether as families or in some ineffable way suggested by the "sounds of the city" that Billy’s sister describes in "Joseph": "Because you see there are millions and millions of people in New York—more people than you can possibly imagine, ever… and because there are so many of them, all those little sounds add up and come together in a kind of hum. But it’s so faint—so very, very faint—that you can’t hear it unless you listen very carefully for a long time."

In the face of so many millions struggling against anonymity, or just to retain dignity, Helen’s “brave, difficult, one-woman journey” is bound for obscurity.

But then a kind of mystical kinship is evoked, as well as forgiveness, and doom, in the story’s final line: “Our mother was ours; we were hers; and we lived with that knowledge as we lay listening for the faint, faint sound of millions.”

-A Tragic Honesty

The Life and Work of Richard Yates

by Blake Bailey