Confirmation

When you work at home by yourself it’s easy to lose perspective. Certain things—laundry, for instance—can take on inflated importance in your life, absorbing so much of your attention that you forget other people might not place quite as much focus on them as you do.

Once you’re aware of this, the inverse (or is it the converse?) becomes true: You begin to assume that the things that occupy your attention—laundry, for instance—are of little interest to others.

Reassurance comes with confirmation—a serendipitous moment when you discover that there are others who see the world (or at least one tiny corner of it) the way you do. It came for me on pages 53 and 54 of the Random House trade paperback edition of Absurdistan by Gary Shteyngart, when the character Misha, a wealthy Russian, describes living with his middle-class girlfriend in New York City:

At first I insisted that a professional laundress wash our socks and underwear, but Rouenna taught me there was something simple, methodical, and pleasing about doing it yourself. She taught me all about temperatures and detergents and how to treat “delicates.” … I’ll always associate self-laundered socks with democracy and the primacy of the middle class.

It’s a mistake to assume that everything in a novelist’s work is autobiographical. Writers of fiction make stuff up—that’s what they’re supposed to do. But in this case I want to believe that Gary Shteyngart experienced some sort of epiphany during the drying cycle one day, filed it away in his mind and rekindled it on the page. What I do know is this: I couldn’t have said it better myself.

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