I am reading Netherland with some friends. A novel set in post 9/11 New York by Joseph O’Neill, it is a meditation on being lost. Hans van den Broek, a successful financial analyst who is working in the American branch of a European bank, is a man caught in the postmodern dilemma: how is it possible to have so much in such a driven, technologically advanced world and yet find so little meaning in any of it. His wife, a successful attorney, has returned to London with their son to live with her parents. They have not divorced, but a subtle distancing haunts their relationship.
Hans discovers that those he should have most in common with—the analysts and planners in the rarefied world of high finance—have little time for real relationships and little patience for unhurried conversation. He discovers that unknown to most New Yorkers, a parallel world exists where immigrants gather in clubs to play cricket in city parks. The players come from all over the globe: Trinidad, Guyana, Jamaica, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka. Hans and Chuck Ramkissoon, who he first meets as an umpire at a match, become friends. Netherland is essentially their story.
Netherland is also about cricket, a sport I have never understood, and still don’t. In the novel it functions less as a sport we must understand or like than a metaphor for something greater. In this it is like the baseball in The Brothers K, an essential part of the story yet bigger than what can be seen on ESBN.
Mostly though, Netherland is about living in our postmodern world. About being lost in a cosmos that is home but yet isn’t, where homesickness isn’t so much a disease or a failing as a way of life. About life in a universe where we sense that we belong here but don’t quite fit. That something deep is somehow out of joint, but all the yearning seems to end in more yearning.
Hans relates at one point how he arrives to meet Chuck:
I can see him now, waiting for me on the wooden steps of his porch. He is wearing a cap from his collection of caps, and shorts from his collection of shiny athletic shorts, and a T-shirt from his collection of T-shirts. Chuck covered up his extreme industry with a wardrobe suggestive of extreme leisure.
“So,” he says, “what’s the story?”
“There’s no story,” I say, sitting next to him.
He looks at me with a cocked head, as if I’ve thrown down a challenge. “There’s always a story,” he says. Whereupon he feels for the buzzing phone at his breast.