Rapture, by Susan Minot. New York: Knopf. 116 pages. $18. BUY NOW

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For me, the stunningly unambivalent beauty of Rapture occurs in the difference between the moments when we look and when we really look: "When Kay got off the phone her heart was pounding in an irregular way. The apartment seemed relit, or tilted. At the corner of the table the tablecloth dropped with a weirdly angelic fold." Existence careens along this secret order of high and exalted observation: a momentary awareness of a sea of tiny things. When humans take their humble place amid the effluvia they honor the true enormity of this rapture. Benjamin describes a newly lurid nightlife (without Vanessa or Kay) like this: "He liked seeing these girls who weren't talking about the future or commitments or working it out or working on it, but instead were opening the shadows at the front of their shirts." The world is a site of endless variation, of openings and closings. In tracking how Minot sees (before she remembers to moralize), her mise-en-scène suggests that people in our quiet thoughts are saints and poets, that all peopleóespecially when in the grip of passions that order and disorder our livesóexperience life in terms of light. We know intuitively how it's withheld and granted to us. And we love movies because they speak even more primarily of these things.

A novel is a bit of a nag in comparison to the V-8 engine of film. Minot writes a novel knowing all thisóliberated, streamlined, downright liquid in her observations of thingsóbut does she include a tawdry sentimentality just in case? Her female narrator persists in achieving a moral victory in a book that doesn't coast on those terms. Who is this for, the little people? Or is she kidding herself? "But sex inspired hope, the water we swim in." I mean, it is one thing to lose, but do we have to call it winning? Doesn't it take the lushness away, the material dignity of being usówomen and men living our livesómessing up, fucking up, swarming? Instead her bad boy moves through the world chirping bravely that "men and women . . . had different attitudes. He'd learned some things after thirty years of trial and error." Do writers still need to demonstrate ethical dilemmas by having their characters spout TV Western speeches about what "a guy learns"? Likewise when a girl giving a blow job enthuses "This is what it must feel like to be a saint. Full-hearted and ecstatic. Though no saint she could imagine would have been in precisely the same position she was in at the moment." That's what I would call, at the very least, a Protestant thought. Why wouldn't a saint suck cock? If that's what God wants?

Eileen Myles is a poet and novelist living in New York. Her most recent book of poems is Skies (Black Sparrow, 2001).

 
     
     
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