The Wait Show

I did a lot of waiting this past week.

Why? I was called for jury duty on July 17, when I waited six hours in a Newark, New Jersey, courthouse before my name was called to be a possible juror for a trial. A few minutes later, myself and about 50 others crowded into a courtroom, where people were picked in random order to be questioned by the judge as well as by lawyers for the plaintiff and defendant in a car-accident case. Five of the eight needed jurors were chosen before the process was suspended until the following morning. Then came an overnight wait for everyone at their respective homes.

The next day, more jurors were chosen, some were dismissed, and I became perhaps the 13th or 14th person questioned. I ended up being picked for the trial, which took place on July 18 and 19 — with many waiting moments amid the proceedings, such as when the judge periodically called the lawyers to the front for sidebar discussions when an objection was made. Our congenial, diverse jury ended up voting 7-1 in favor of the defendant.

Anyway, with all that waiting, I had plenty of time to try to think of a new blog post for today. My first thought of course was to discuss lawyers and court cases in literature, but I had done that already, in 2015.

Then it occurred to me to write about WAITING in literature, and I don’t mean what fictional servers do at restaurant tables.

Depicting characters waiting for something is not necessarily boring in the right authorial hands. It can mean slow-building, compelling drama — drama that has the reader asking questions such as: How long will the wait be? Will the wait result in something positive or negative? How will the characters react to/handle the wait? That can show a lot about them.

I first thought of The White Dawn, because I had finished that novel the night before my jury duty started. James Houston’s absorbing book is set in Eskimo territory in the 1890s, when three lost white men end up joining the native camp. There’s subsequently a LOT of waiting: for a ship looking for the white men to possibly arrive, for Eskimo hunters to hopefully return with food when everyone is almost starving, for warmer weather to come, for colder weather to come back, etc. (One thing I liked about The White Dawn was that it was told completely from the Eskimos’ perspective; Houston had lived among them for nine years — many decades after the time in which the novel is set.)

Obviously, any novel starring a castaway — such as Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe — is going to have the stranded character do a lot of waiting.

Another novel with intense waiting is Nevil Shute’s On the Beach, in which the Australian characters wait for deadly radiation from a nuclear blast to eventually reach their country.

And there’s Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, in which Raskolnikov agonizingly waits to see if he’ll get caught for the two murders he committed. (Of course, the second part of the novel’s title offers a clue about that. 🙂 )

Or how about the innocent Edmond Dantes of Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo waiting years in an island prison for either death or a chance to escape?

In Geraldine Brooks’ novel March, the wife and daughters from Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women wait for their husband/father to return from the Civil War.

Lily Bart of Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth does a different kind of waiting — for the right guy to marry. She is financially desperate, but wants to wed for love, not just for money.

In Octavia Butler’s Kindred, African-American writer Dana Franklin waits to return to the 20th century after being yanked to the 19th century’s horrific slave-owning South. Then Ms. Franklin waits to be yanked to the 19th century again, to the 20th century again, and for her 20th-century husband to return from the 19th century.

Twentieth-century guy Sam Fowler of Darryl Brock’s If I Never Get Back sequel Two in the Field WANTS to return to the 19th century to reunite with the woman he fell in love with in the first novel. But it’s a long wait.

Oh, and there’s Samuel Beckett’s play Waiting for Godot

Those are just a few examples of waiting in literature; do you have some others? (I’m sure you do. 🙂 )

My 2017 literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.

In addition to this weekly blog, I write the award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for Baristanet.com. The latest weekly piece — which mentions the World Cup, among other things — is here.

62 thoughts on “The Wait Show

    • Great example, lulabelle! Books with an imprisonment theme definitely are up there when it comes to waiting. And “Papillon” is a memorable, intense read.

      (I can delete your comment posted by mistake under my new column. Darn those smartphones indeed! 🙂 I find it hard to navigate my blog with my phone.)

      Liked by 1 person

  1. So here I go again with an off-topic comment as usual. I just finished reading “Books for Living” by Will Schwable, and he mentioned many books, which was quite interesting. I think he spent the most time talking about “The Importance of Living,” by Lin Yutang. I just ordered it on B&N, so I’ll let you know more when I receive it. Another chapter that really spoke to me was about Xavier de Maistre, “A Journey Around My Room” from 1790. He was what we’d consider under “house arrest” but without an ankle bracelet, so he spent his time for a month traveling around his room, and nothing escaped his notice whatever it was, a crack in a vase, what books he had on this shelves, etc. I do this in my own way, which I joke about being “feng shui” but I think about what is where in my rooms something needs to be. But I’d say this is partly waiting as well. 🙂

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  2. Most of the memorable waiting around I’ve encountered in books of late feature detectives or Reacher (just finished his latest– trip to Nashville), in cars with styrofoam cups full of bad coffee, or if, before styrofoam (I’m reading and rereading some classic Ross MacDonald), in hash houses or diners with mugs of the stuff and plenty of time to kill. Sometimes these vigils take many, even dozens of hours. Just reading the descriptions of listless tedium can be listlessly tedious.

    But there is one most memorable fictional character whose patience and waiting pales all other examples, because the character waiting is immortal, and has had centuries of doing little else, besides frightening a local population into endless and cowed subservience: Ayesha,She Who Must Be Obeyed, the subject of H, Ryder Haggard’s novel 1887 novel “She.”

    Ayesha, as a young queen, had discovered a cavern in which a strange fire burned always. To stand withing it was to receive immortal life, and Ayesha immersed herself therein. Some years later, having fallen in love with a married man who would not leave his wife, she kills him, to her great sorrow. Thereafter, she dedicates herself to amassing power and wealth and slaves– and to regretful, endless waiting, for her true love to return somehow. Skip forward a bunch of centuries, and up he pops!

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    • Great observation, jhNY! Jack Reacher and other investigators, detectives, semi-vigilantes, or whatever you want to call them do a LOT of waiting around along with their sleuthing. For instance, as you well know, many of Lee Child’s Reacher novels end with Jack (and perhaps a few allies) waiting for the bad guys before the final explosion of violence in the name of justice.

      Immortality is indeed partly a big waiting game, and “She” sounds like a terrific example of that. (I know you’ve mentioned that book before, but glad to see another great description of it by you.) Immortality-caused waiting is also the case in novels such as Anne Rice’s vampire books and Pete Hamill’s “Forever” — the latter about an eventually 200-something guy who will never die as long as he doesn’t leave Manhattan. Park Slope holds no attraction for him…

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      • Anne Rice may owe a l’il sumpin to Haggard, as her ancient ones, “Those Who Must Be Kept”, Akasha and Enkil, sound a bit like “She Who Must Be etc.” and ‘Akasha’ sounds not a little like ‘Ayesha.’

        Of course, both Ayesha and Akasha owe a bit of a bit to the story of the Egyptian lioness god Sekhmet, who would have consumed all the humans in the world were it not for being fooled by beer dyed red into thinking she was drinking blood– soon after, she fell into a stupor, and humanity was saved.

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        • Yes, so much literature is connected to stories and characters that came before. I guess that phenomenon ranges from inspiration to near-plagiarism…

          One of the best beer anecdotes ever! 🙂

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      • “Pete Hamill’s “Forever” — the latter about an eventually 200-something guy who will never die as long as he doesn’t leave Manhattan. ”

        Reminds me of an early HP Lovecraft story, a time travel via architecture of sorts, wherein the contemporary narrator is led through many Manhattan alleyways, courtyards, gateways and windings among forgotten places till he arrives at Manhattan– Manhattan before being so named, before the white man bought it for a handful of beads.

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          • He wrote a lot of stories– I have a half-dozen paperbacks– not all his output. Eeriest thing about the author– his earliest fiction– from the age of about sixteen– are no less mature in style and form than his adult stuff. Guess that’s not surprising.

            From wikipedia:”Lovecraft’s earliest known literary works began at age seven with poems restyling the Odyssey and other mythological stories.”

            Creepiest thing? Nearly everything else– Racist anglophilia plus sadness and weirdness and failure galore.

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            • Yes, LOTS of output — I guess including many stories originally published in pulp magazines.

              It IS eerie that his earliest fiction when a teen was as mature as his later fiction as an adult!

              Racist to the core, it seems. 😦

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  3. I’m going to add this quote right here as it’s pertinent to this column in the book I’m now reading: “Books for Living,” a non-fiction work by Will Schwalbe: “If I hadn’t read ‘Killing Floor,’ the masterful 1997 novel that introduced the world to Jack Reacher, a former military cop turned vagrant, I never would have learned this valuable piece of wisdom, which still guides me in work and life’ ‘Waiting is a skill like anything else’.”

    Schwalbe also wrote a book a few years ago called “The End of Your Life Book Club,” in which part of the ritual when going to chemo with his mother (dying of pancreatic cancer), would pick a book for them to read and discuss during her next session. I just recall this book as so life-affirming, and I’d hope someone would do the same for me! I can’t find my copy of this because my shelves are in total disarray since I moved, but I do remember their discussion on Brat Farrar by Josephine Tey, and read “Crossing for Safety,” by Wallace Stegner, a wonderful book! His mother also endeared herself to me by admiring that she always read the ending of a book, a habit that I’ve developed through the years, but will probably appall fellow readers. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • That IS a terrific quote, Kat Lib! And “Killing Floor” is definitely a great, intense novel.

      “The End of Your Life Book Club” does sound inspiring. What a wonderful idea it conveys. Reading is a really nice thing to do, whatever the circumstances.

      I’m not one to read the end of a novel before I reach it, but whatever works. 🙂

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      • I just noticed the Pingback (whatever that means) below, lyrics from a Tom Petty song, but which I remember mostly from a cover by Linda Ronstadt:
        “The waiting is the hardest part
        Every day you see one more card
        You take it on faith, you take it to the heart
        The waiting is the hardest part”
        Which now is stuck in my head for at least the rest of the day!

        Liked by 1 person

        • Kat Lib, I’m also not quite sure what a “Pingback” is, or how it differs from a “reblog.” The opposite of a “Pingfront,” I suppose…

          Linda Ronstadt did some amazing versions of other people’s songs! And the one you cited very much fits in with this week’s column topic.

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            • Yes, jhNY! Very relevant to this topic. I remember the song well. I might even have the 45 — I know I have at least one 45 from the Kinks somewhere. (But maybe it’s “A Well-Respected Man.”)

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              • 1. The Beatles, 2.the Kinks are the exact order of my two fave Brit bands from my youth which has grown to be a big boy by now, to repurpose M. Rutherford.

                Liked by 1 person

                • Well, those are two terrific favorites!

                  Back then, I was also a big fan of (British bands) The Moody Blues and The Who. I even had a brief Dave Clark Five fling (VERY brief 🙂 ).

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                  • I correct myself– the ref above is to a Margaret Dumont line in a Marx Bros. movie;
                    Dumont: “That reminds me of my youth!”

                    Groucho: “He must be a pretty big boy by now.”

                    Realized my error when i was drifting off to sleep last night, and I thought for a moment to get up and make this correction lest someone do it for me. Thankfully, torpor took over.

                    Liked by 1 person

                    • Thanks, jhNY! No reason to stop the onset of sleep to make a correction. 🙂

                      Groucho and the being-insulted-but-not-realizing-she’s-being-insulted Margaret Dumont — what a comic combination!

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  4. Pingback: Shelf Life: The Waiting Is the Hardest Part – My Lady Scribbler

  5. Awesome post. I think Penelope set the all-time world record for waiting in the Odyssey. All while having to fend off the suitors and keep up a deception with her weaving.

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  6. I suppose that almost all of Jane Austen’s books involve the main characters waiting for the right person to come along to marry for love: Emma Woodhouse turned down Mr. Elton; Elizabeth Bennet refused to marry Mr. Collins; Fanny Price wouldn’t marry Henry Crawford; Anne Elliot had turned down her future brother-in-law; both the Dashwood sisters waited until they could marry the men that they loved; and Catherine Morland, I think she had rebuffed her brother’s friend. One of the most poignant scenes from “Sense & Sensibility” was when in London, Marianne waited to hear from Willoughby every day, but only finally received a note that he was returning her lock of hair.

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    • Thank you, Kat Lib!

      “I suppose that almost all of Jane Austen’s books involve the main characters waiting for the right person to come along to marry for love” — so true, and you offered many excellent examples!

      As you know, there were also years of waiting for some of Austen’s novels to be published. For instance, she wrote differently titled early versions of “Sense and Sensibility” and “Pride and Prejudice” in the 1790s, but those books weren’t published until 1811 and 1813, respectively.

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      • Yes, A few of her books were published after she died, so I assume she would be stunned by the popularity of all of her novels today, including that they would all have been turned into film productions in many different formats, as well as a group known as “Janeites,”

        A book that is much more modern that crossed my mind was “Her” by Harriet Lane. It’s a psychological thriller and centers on two women who crossed paths later in mid-life. One has wanted to wait to take revenge on the other for years, and is finally rewarded when they become friends, one not being recognized nor remembered. It was quite good; however, at the very end, I’M still waiting for the denouement to this novel, as it ended without a very important resolution. I had bought it on my Nook, and I at first thought that somehow it had been cut off prematurely, but was instead infuriated that that was the ending the author had intended. There are plot twists, then there are much worse plot twists, then none at all!

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        • You’re right, Kat Lib — as you note, also the posthumously published novels (“Persuasion” and “Northanger Abbey”).

          And, yes, Jane Austen would undoubtedly be beyond stunned at her 21st-century popularity.

          Wow — that “Her” novel sounds like it needs a lot more closure. Reminds me a bit of Donna Tartt’s mostly excellent “The Little Friend,” in which there is no satisfying ending to the mystery that pervades the book. And the not-being-recognized element is reminiscent of “The Count of Monte Cristo,” in which the vengeful Edmond Dantes-turned-the-Count is not recognized by one or two of the people who framed him.

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          • Dave, way back 20 years ago? — one of my good friends was called for Grand Jury duty. She had to take a train every other week or so, (for at least 18 months or so) but I just got nervous even typing about it, as she was sworn to secrecy, and she was probably working on an organized crime trial, but I never knew for sure.

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          • Dave, I have the latest Trump & Sessions speeches playing in the background, and Sessions was speaking to a bunch of conservative high schoolers, who started chanting “Lock Her Up,” “Lock Her Up,” etc. How can high schoolers even know what that means, let alone anything about Hillary Clinton. It makes me sick to even hear that, especially after all this time! If Sessions had anything in his body (or soul) after all this time, he would have said something to stop that chant rather than chuckling about it. Do you remember John McCain who stopped a supporter after asking a question about Obama’s birthplace? He was a class act.

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            • Sick. If Hillary should be locked up (which she shouldn’t), Trump should be locked up dozens of times. It’s also beyond cruel to continue to pile on a person who lost (the Electoral College part of) what may have been a stolen election. Like Trump, Sessions is an ogre. McCain is very mixed (heck, he voted for that awful tax law that was and is a giveaway to the rich) but at least he at times has shown integrity — such as in the instance you mentioned.

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              • Agreed about McCain, who also showed very poor judgment in picking Sarah Palin as his running mate in 2008! What was he thinking?
                I do also admire him though for when he was a POW, and he refused to leave until all of his band of brothers were also released. Yet Trump doesn’t think he’s a war hero — that should have been the first inkling that DJT is as you say an “ogre.”

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                • Well said, Kat Lib! Yes, the Palin thing. Certainly “advanced” the dumbing down of politics that Trump has further “advanced” to the nth degree.

                  But, as you said, McCain showed true courage and loyalty when he was a POW — and that disgusting insult of him was indeed one of the first campaign examples of just how atrocious Trump is.

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                  • McCain did show true courage as a POW but he was bombing civilians right before being shot down, and many of his original injuries came from a spontaneous beating he received from said civilians when he parachuted into a body of water in a public park.

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                    • That definitely puts things in context, jhNY. As you note, great personal bravery by McCain after being captured, but one can understand why Vietnamese citizens and soldiers were furious at anyone representing a country (America) causing so much carnage.

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                    • Yes, I certainly agree with you both about what happened in Vietnam. You both know, I think, about my brother and what happened to him when he was imprisoned for being a CO. I just don’t know how I can separate out what the men did who went to prison, went to Canada, or ended up serving in Vietnam. My best girlfriend is a psychologic counselor who to this day is treating men and women vets, but I think she treats a lot of men who still suffer from PTSD.

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                    • Well said, Kat Lib.

                      Most of those who fought in Vietnam or other wars were following orders. With some exceptions, they are much less to blame than the politicians, arms manufacturers, and generals who love war for a variety of reasons (diversion, profit, prestige, etc.) and of course either don’t serve at all or don’t serve on the front lines.

                      I have a lot of admiration for people who became COs (like your brother) or went to Canada to avoid fighting in an unjust war.

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  7. The characters in Chekhov’s plays are always waiting for something—love, independence, trains—as time ticks away. They were written during the last years of his struggle with TB, and the sense of being trapped while time and life rush past you is palpable.

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    • Thank you, Elena! Eloquently said!

      Certainly true that there’s plenty of waiting in Chekhov’s stories — and that major health issues during his relatively short life HAD to have affected those tales. (Probably affected his plays, too, but regretfully I’ve never read them or seen them. I did finally read two volumes of Chekhov’s stories maybe three years ago, and was unsurprisingly VERY impressed.)

      Liked by 2 people

      • When I first encountered Checkhov’s plays, as an undergrad, I found them incomprehensible. I appreciated them more when I read them again as a grad student, but it wasn’t until I saw them performed live by Russian companies (important!!) that I truly began to appreciate them. If you’re interested, Stage Russia has a number of Chekhov plays filmed live and available to stream: https://www.stagerussia.com/

        I’ve seen their “Uncle Vanya” offering from the Vakhtangov Theatre, and boy is it impressive.

        Liked by 2 people

          • Thank you for the comments and that link, Elena! If I ever have time… 🙂

            In general, seeing plays live rather than in written form is indeed SO much better. And to have a play performed by a company from the playwright’s country of origin can only help, as you note.

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  8. “Godot” and “On the Beach” both leaped into my mind. Naturally, I also thought of the novel, “Waiting”. I’ll also throw in “The Time Traveler’s Wife”, because she was always waiting to see when he’d show up again.

    I await your thoughts.

    Good post. Cheers

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Michael! “The Time Traveler’s Wife” is a great mention among your great mentions! I guess we could also flip things around — Henry had to wait as well until he was yanked in time (many times) and yanked back to the present (many times) to see Clare. Audrey Niffenegger’s novel is terrific.

      I didn’t know there was a novel called “Waiting.” (Certainly a perfect book title for this blog post!) Just googled that Ha Jin book, and it looks very interesting. Now on my to-read list.

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  9. As I read this, I thought, “Dave’s not going to include “Godot”. I’m going to be able to mention that Beckett play. Is it a bit of an elephant in the room? Surely it’s an obvious book to mention. But he’s not going to! There’s the count of Monte Cristo, great mention, and I love Raskolnikov, even if he is a murderer. And he’s not going to mention “Godot”. I’m waiting for it, I’m waiting for it. Oh, wait, there it is…”

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    • LOL, Sue! Great, drolly written comment!

      Actually, I didn’t think of mentioning the obvious “Waiting for Godot” until my fourth or fifth edit of the piece before posting. Then it occurred to me. Better wait…um…late than never. 🙂

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    • I love your mention, Haley! Children’s books should be named more often in this blog — including by me. 🙂 There’s also the waiting to fall asleep in Margaret Wise Brown’s “Goodnight Moon,” waiting for the mom to come home in Dr. Seuss’ “The Cat in the Hat”…

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      • I’m sure I must have read that book when I was in first grade, because that year we put on an elaborate show called Bunnyville that our mothers made costumes for and all the parents attended. I was very honored to be the Mama Bunny, whereas my best friend (who still is to this day) was relegated to being the Nurse Bunny. Looking back, I’d much rather be the Nurse than the Mama, but who really knows what one will be in first grade! The photo of me in my bunny suit, is still my sister’s favorite one of me! 🙂

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