At the end of my freshman year in college, I needed to take my bedspread to the dry cleaner. It was a modish brown plaid (Calvin Klein? Some designer who had licensed his/her name.) I don’t recall that it was particularly large; in fact, it was almost certainly twin-size. But my friend Ellen helped me carry it to the dry cleaners and, at some point, with the giddy logic of the 19-year-olds we were — actually I was 19, Ellen was two months away from that birthday — we put it over our heads, so we appeared to be a two-headed brown-and-white ghost, or perhaps the middle part of a camel, walking across the main drag outside Northwestern’s administration building. And beneath the bedspread, we discussed Mr. Sammler’s Planet, which would be on our final on the modern novel, along with Lolita (a book I knew inside out), Beckett’s Murphy and . . . not sure. We had read an excerpt from Philip Roth’s When She Was Good and an impenetrable (to me) story by William Gass. But I’m sure there must have been at least four novels in the second half of the quater.
Mr. Sammler’s Planet ended IIRC — I’ll check in a moment — with the repetition of “He knew.” On that May day, as Ellen and I walked with a bedspread on our heads, we figured it out, got to the bottom of what Mr. Sammler knew and went on to ace the final.
Is serious thought and giddy behavior ever juxtaposed again once one leaves school? When were you at your most silly and profound? When was the last time you felt that way?
For the record, the novel ends this way: “He was aware that he must meet, and he did meet — through all the confusion and degraded clowning of this life through which we are speeding — he did meet the terms of the contract. The terms which, in his inmost heart, each man knows. As I know mine. As all know. For that is the truth of it — that we all know, God, that we know, that we know, we know, we know.”