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Book Review : A Love Story to Fall in Love With

February 02, 1987|CAROLYN SEE

This Magic Moment by Gregg Easterbrook (St. Martins: $17.95)

The title, "This Magic Moment," is taken from the popular song of the same name, and to paraphrase another lyric, "I Feel a Rave Coming On." What a wonderful book this is!

The subtitle--or is it just a kind of commentary that floats on the cover?--defines this volume as a "love story for people who want the world to make sense," and certainly this is as much a philosophical treatise as it is a novel. But "This Magic Moment" is also funny, appealing, original, handsome, beautiful, smart.

If this book were a man or a woman, you'd want to go out with it. You'd fall in love with it, is what would happen, thus proving Easterbrook's thesis that, yes, there is such a thing as love, and we are in it, right at this magic moment.

A Classic Plot

Nothing could be simpler than the linear plot of this book: Warren Gifford, a very nice civil engineer, falls in love with Nora Jocelyn, a publicist who both travels across the nation and works at home. Nora and Warren have known each other for three weeks and have fallen wildly in love. This proposition satisfies two manifestations of our reality: in entertainment terms, boy gets girl. In what we laughingly think of as real life--when you fall "in love at first sight," it's always three weeks before you decide to get married. That's just the way it is. But why?

To satisfy the classic plot requirements, Nora informs Warren that she's already married. Boy loses girl, and the real story begins. Does it even matter when love is thwarted? Does it matter when two souls who should exist as one remain separated? Does love even exist, or is it just something fancy we make up when we need either to reproduce or to suffer?

Writ large, this problem translates out; do our lives have meaning? And writ largest of all--at the cosmic level--the question is: Does the universe make sense? Did God make it, and if so, how come it works like a K mart toaster? Or, taking the dark view, is the universe a random setup, do our lives have no meaning at all, and back down again on this metaphysical ladder, is what we think of as love merely a brain-glitch, a groin-itch, and not worthy at all of our concentrated attention?

From the beginning, Easterbrook slants his argument. As Warren grieves for his lost love, he "happens" to be at an exhibit of paintings from 15th-Century Siena. Guess what? There's a likeness of Nora in one painting, and--gazing out from the frame next to it--a likeness of Warren Gifford. Get serious! Can we be talking (in a novel written by a "real" guy in a cynical, tough-minded style) about reincarnation?

Yes. Because, Easterbrook postulates, this is a world that does make sense. And in a series of hypotheses that--were this 15th-Century Italy instead of 20th-Century America--would get him burned at the stake a dozen times over, he suggests that we are reincarnated repeatedly, and that accounts for our idea of "love at first sight."

Transcendental Mind Bank

What if every single molecule in this so-called random universe impinged on every single other molecule, right on out to the farthest-away molecule, Easterbrook queries. What if everything humans have learned so far has been deposited in a kind of transcendental mind bank? What if God is a being in man's image, rather than the other way around, so that, yes, he made the universe, but made it more or less the way my grandson builds with Lego blocks--imaginatively, but not perfectly?

Suppose, as humankind "grows up," we can learn to speak to God as adult-children or almost-equals? Suppose we can help him fix the universe so that it works better, in the same way that we might help our aged grandpa fix the shed roof?

These speculations come to Warren (and the reader) via something called the Azimuth Newsletter, a smudged computer print-out that turns up, not by coincidence, just when it's most needed. Everything in these communications suggests that the universe is not quite what it seems. We already have the means, for instance, to turn matter to energy by blowing up the world. If we could just turn that around--look at the equation differently--and turn energy to matter, we'd be working in God's mode.

Not only that, but our linear concept of the universe is mistaken, askew, inaccurate. (Because, why else would the transistor radio have been invented after the atom bomb?) "Since time immemorial," the newsletter suggests, "philosophers have been predicting that if only mankind could cast off the yoke of subservience to physical sustenance, magnificent awakenings of the heart and spirit would be made possible. Well guess what? Now they are."

But Warren and Nora still sleepwalk through the threatening limitations of a linear plot line on the one hand, and a random universe on the other. How tempting it is for all of us to dismiss life as meaningless, turn on the television, send out for pizza, and doze our life away! It's either that, Easterbrook says, or awake! Fall in love with each other and with life; save up all our nobility of spirit to put in that mind bank of human kind. . . .

There are flaws galore in this book. Easterbrook might say, so what? God didn't do such a hot job either. But if you yearn for the world to make sense, read "This Magic Moment"--and fall in love.

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