In this modern world, the Internet, email and Facebook possess enormous power. Yet human lives remain fraught with difficulties. Do modern communications, with the means to find friends even in distant places, ease some difficulties? That question lies at the core of Laura Solomon’s insightful story, Hilary and David (2011, Proverse Hong Kong, 163 pages, HK$138).
Solomon’s main characters transform from Facebook friends into real buddies. Despite living far apart, they are kindred spirits – “two socially inept humans corresponding via a series of electronic messages”.
They recognize the miracle of their relationship. “It really has been a revolution, this internet. I mean, how would we have met otherwise? It’s changed the world. I suppose that’s what they mean when they talk of a ‘Global Village’, is it, everybody part of one community, the world’s great and not so great minds able to commune with one another?”
Hilary, a stretched-to-the-limits single mom raising two boys, lives in New Zealand. Wyatt, her older son, has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and Harry, the younger one, suffers from Down’s Syndrome. “Sometimes I feel I am at the end of my tether. I feel like walking out and just leaving them, but of course a mother can’t do that.”
No world-beater either, David, an elderly author in London, also with a dysfunctional family, yearns for late-life success. “I live by myself in a one bedroom flat in Peckham – rented. When I make my big breakthrough (ha, ha!), I’ll buy my own place, but for now it’s renting.”
Solomon merely reveals their shared emails. At first glance, that looks like a decidedly easy (maybe too easy) way to propel a plot. There’s no need to create many scenes or situations – just subsequent emails to say what happened.
Despite this easy technique, the book has an intensely intimate aspect – as if curious readers had found an untended computer, its screen glowing and an email account open. Should they read the private messages? Well, okay! Once indulging in this guilty pleasure, they soon care deeply about David and Hilary.
Both characters have problems big enough to rival the vast distance between them. “So, that’s me. That’s how I fucked up my life grand style and am now living with the consequences of my actions…. It’s just there were so many other things I wanted to do with my life. I was eighteen when I fell pregnant with Wyatt, so motherhood is the only adult life I’ve ever known. I wanted to do other things. I wanted to go to university and study History and Politics, I wanted to work in an office as… as something. I wanted to travel and the kids put paid to all that. They cancelled my future.”
Lonely and troubled, they feel unsure about coping. “I sometimes wonder whether having kids hasn’t killed off ninety per cent of my brain cells.”
Irrational fears and uncertainties worsen matters. “I’m into hiding away, like you, I presume. There’s only so much of the real world I can handle. It all seems so much sometimes; global warming, Sarah Palin, dolphins being slaughtered in Taiji, hurricanes, tidal waves, earthquakes measuring seven point nine on the Richter scale, Barack Obama, spirulina smoothies, Sarah Jessica Parker, Madonna, the movers and shakers who make this world go round, too much for little people like you and me – the housebound ones.”
But gaining a reliable friend, someone to confide in and seek advice from, makes a huge difference. “This new friendship is the greatest thing since sliced bread, he thinks. I’ve always got someone to talk to. A sympathetic ear, even if that ear is on the other side of the world…. In a way, it helps that Hilary is so far away – he doesn’t have to go round for cups of tea or with flowers, he can just share whatever’s bothering him, get things off his chest.”
Much-needed advice arrives at crucial moments. “Sounds like your life is full to the point of overflowing. Staying calm is the thing, and being organized, trying not to let it all get on top of you….”
At times, Hilary veers especially close to total collapse. “Life seems quite pointless, no meaning to anything, just an endless slog through the days.”
Certain suggested solutions sound perilous, almost desperate. “Sorrow can be a bottomless pit. Try to tightrope walk across it.” But at other moments, the characters swap real pearls of wisdom. “It does me good to get out and about, to get some new experiences, fresh ideas flowing through my brain. It does not pay to live in a vacuum.”
Some readers may expect David and Hilary to ease their aching hearts by falling into love with each other. With their different locations, priorities and stages in life, would that be realistic? Besides, “Dating is such a minefield; relationships seem to have become endlessly complicated. Everybody carries such baggage these days; it’s like a weird waltz and nobody’s quite sure where the music is coming from.”
Born in New Zealand, Solomon lived in England for nine years, but returned to her homeland in 2007. She has five previous books, four novels -- Black Light (1996), Nothing Lasting (1997), An Imitation of Life (2009) and Instant Messages (2010) – and a short-story collection, Alternative Medicine (2008).
What forms the bottom line? Do modern communications ever solve serious problems for anyone? Although unreliable solution-finders, they can help enormously to secure solace, ease pain and inspire creative thoughts – all positive factors.
Readers will appreciate that the magic of Facebook churned creative thoughts in Solomon’s fertile mind, leading to this story. At any given moment, thousands of other far-flung friends correspond online. That’s a staggering notion, but also reassuring. As in Hilary and David, they almost certainly comfort each other.
Approval rating: 73 per cent.
For more information: www.proversepublishing.com
(April 2, 2012)