SATURDAY, & The Moon-Blanched Infarct
Inside its borders, having for years gone unnoticed, the delinquent gene now keys the security system’s alarm from whence the body relays outwardly its call of distress: slow at first, spasms and slippages begin the disease’s articulation; then suddenly, at the fated moment of kairos, the body is overthrown by a mutinous sinuosity; death before death. For the 25yrold thug Baxter in Ian McEwan’s novel Saturday, this insurgency turns out to be Huntington’s chorea, an incurable degenerative disease, the prognosis of which is at best bleak. So, when neurosurgeon Henry Perowne suggests that new treatments are available for Huntington’s in order to escape a drubbing at the hands of Baxter et al, Henry realizes that he’s acted cruelly by playing directly to his opponent’s weakness—point Henry, six-love. In effect, the specialist has from a position of impromptu authority conjured a “mirage for which people are prepared to kill and die for” (176). In all likelihood, Baxter watched his father die from the same hereditary disease and is unforgettably aware of the trajectory his own suffering will follow. Accordingly, Baxter inhabits that interstice between the kind of fear that clamors for obviation and the paralyzing terror of knowing himself to be ultimately helpless before cruelest death. Henry, whose mother suffers from another atavistic illness, dementia, comes to a similar conclusion by book’s end. Yet the thought of his properly “English” progeny is for Henry some consolation beyond the lemonade of clinical detachment.
But, whereas Henry suffers from an “expanding circle of moral sympathy” from inside his Mercedes, Baxter is all fight, no flight: a class-conscripted delinquent, he has no utopian notions of the hereafter and is instead emboldened by the very lack of an expectation that he will someday be compensated for his plight. And now, thanks to an interested Henry, Baxter has had to bear his wounds before a disloyal congress, Nigel and Nark. Furthermore, to the worse, Baxter’s fear—that “insidious whisper of ruin” lodged within—has been whetted down to an aim-for-the-jugular reflex against terror, or rather, surrogate terror. And so, inside Henry’s house, having followed Rosalind in, Baxter transforms the family reunion into something monstrous. To add insult to brain injury, Baxter attempts to harm those innocents closest to Henry, rather than circumvent collateral damage by attacking him directly. Arguably, in more than one respect, Saturday suggests a link, however tenuous, between the reckless Baxter and the terror-ists of 9/11. But perhaps this link ought to be enlarged and enlarged again so as to accommodate all non-westerners. Along similar lines, Henry’s invasion into Baxter’s brain is succinct, recupera-tive, and has an exit-strategy, to boot. Hmm? Well, at the very least, Saturday shows such things as (a) tyrannies, (c) war, (g) exporters of ideologies, and (t) degenerative diseases to be of the same gene tide, which with tremulous cadence slow, brings the eternal note of sadness in.
Finally, why is it that, even with the rudiments of an Arnoldian education, Henry finds nothing profound about Gregor Samsa gazing longingly out the window, at the anamorphic mirror of the city beyond? Or, for that matter, why does Henry consider magical realism absurd to the point of impertinence, but feel something like trust towards the talking heads on the electronic hearth? Also, would Baxter have turned out much like Henry did, had England a level squash court, or had someone spared Arnold’s winged cultural initiative the crossbow? To put it another way, if inoculated with Milton, what would Baxter’s Glasgow Coma Score climb to? Fourteen lines, say, with the accent on every fourth chromosome!