First Lines: Thinking of the Future When It’s Become the Present

“Not until my ears popped and the plane was coming down over the winking lights of Bogatá—or really it looked like any other city at night—did I raise my eyes from the page I’d been puzzling at and begin to think of the girl, or woman, the friend or acquaintance, Natasha, whom I was flying so far to visit. That’s how it was with me then: I couldn’t think of the future until I arrived there.”

—Dwight B. Wilmerding, lead character in the novel Indecision, by Benjamin Kunkel

“I couldn’t think of the future until I arrived there.” In this case, the character is literally arriving by plane at

Book Cover for Indecision, by Benjamin Kunkel

Book Cover for Indecision, by Benjamin Kunkel

Bogatá, and he’s thinking—really thinking—for the first time about the point of his trip. Whatever he was reading before this moment had occupied his attention and had nothing to do with what was going to happen next.

Wilmerding was there to visit Natasha, and he’d come a long way by plane. Natasha doesn’t have a settled identity for this protagonist. She is, variously, “the girl, or woman, the friend or acquaintance” he’s come to see. These are his thoughts. But if this is so, why has he travelled so far to see her?

That’s what we want to find out, isn’t it?

As for Bogatá, on approach into the airport, it didn’t look different than any other city at night. Has he seen Shanghai, I wonder? But I take his point—in a way, cities do look alike, even the ones we’re seeing for the first time. We approach a new place intent on noticing what’s foreign about it. We’re romantics when it comes to travel. But if we think about it, we really must be more modest. We have projected a difference that doesn’t exist.

Wilmerding hints that his penchant for waiting ’til the future arrives before thinking about it is now past. That’s interesting. What accounts for this idiosyncrasy? And are we any different? Shall we find out?

That’s our question as we stand in the Barnes and Noble fiction isle trying to decide whether to buy and read Kunkel’s novel. We are in the grip of Indecision.

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