Sunday, October 12, 2008


Like Glass

a novel by Matthew Cory



The story is that of Rob Jackson, piano student, who falls briefly -- but fiercely -- in love with Janet during their college years in California. After a short courtship, Rob invites her to a party with his brother, Bill, though Rob is unable to attend until later in the evening as he must study for his finals. They promise to call him later in the evening to see how much longer he has, and the phone never rings.As it turns out, Bill and Janet have had a quick fling at the party, leaving Rob devastated. Janet turns out to be pregnant, she and Bill marry and move to Washington state, leaving Rob miserable and wishing his brother dead, as this wasn't the first time Bill had betrayed him in such a way (though none of the previous times were with a love Rob felt as strongly about, nor one he'd trusted as much). Rob leaves music behind and pursues a business degree, landing a job with a small internet development company that he eventually leads to the top of the dot-com bubble and holds on to it through the subsequent burst. Several years later, Bill dies in an accident at the factory he worked at.

Janet calls Rob to let him know, and because he feels it is the "right thing to do" (a recurring theme in the novel), Rob books a flight to Portland airport and takes a taxi to the small, near-rural town where Janet lives. After finding his reception less than warm in spite of Janet calling him, Rob has a brief affair with her sister, Lisa. Although seemingly unaware of Rob's affair, Janet's temper flares and she forbids Rob to attend his brother's funeral, because Rob had avoided any contact with them (even so far as ignoring the phone when Bill and Janet were back in California and wanted to introduce Rob to his niece).Rob and Janet begin a tentative reconciliation, helped along by Lisa's suggestion of a trip to Mt. St. Helens. At the mountain, Janet waxes philosophically about how the mountain's devastation is beautiful, and how quickly life can be taken away. Lisa finds the two discussing the situation, and after the return trip home, she leaves for her own home near Seattle, upset that she had taken Rob for something more than a one-night-stand. Over a cigarette, Janet explains that Jacob, the child that caused her marriage to Bill, was actually Rob's. By the time she'd found out, Bill had become a wonderful father and husband so there wasn't any sense in telling Rob, especially sense he'd had little desire to be part of their family.Rob goes for a lengthy drive to think things over, and returns to his hotel to find Janet standing in front of his room. Wholly confused, he continues on through the parking lot without stopping, and returns to find her gone. The next morning, he leaves a check to help cover the funeral expenses and flies back to California without a word to Janet.Rob comes home to his apartment after work one day to find Lisa standing at his doorway. She punches him squarely in the nose, angry at him for leaving Janet when she needed him the most. After she leaves, Rob's father calls and wants to come over and hang out for a little while. They go out to eat and have a couple of drinks, and Rob's father leaves, with Rob planning on spending more time with his father than he had in the past. Lisa returns after Rob's father has left, much more rational at the moment, and they talk for a while before Rob gets a phone call; his father has been in a terrible accident on the drive home.

The next day finds Rob at the hospital, and Janet and her two children come in (he reminds himself that one of the children is his). After some initial small talk, they leave the children with Lisa and Rob's mother and go outside for a cigarette. Before long, they see Lisa come to the hospital door and Rob's mother, sobbing, being led away by a nurse -- Rob's father has passed away.With the recent death of his brother, the discovery that he has a son, and now the death of his father, Rob falls into a nervous breakdown, where time gets patchy and he doesn't even remember who he's talking to on the phone at any given time. The breakdown peaks when Janet comes to his rescue and, drunk, depressed, and angry, he finds himself with a gun that he points at her. He blacks out before he knows what happens next, and finds himself on a drive through fields and forests next, listening to someone humming along with song on the radio. Still suffering from random blackouts, Rob discovers that Janet has taken him under her wing (he thankfully didn't kill her, much as he though he had), and he's having a difficult time holding down a job. After several months, the blackouts have stopped completely, and Rob learns that he had fired the (unloaded) gun at Janet five times before collapsing and crying.

The holidays are fast approaching, and Rob takes Janet on a shopping trip in hopes he can make up for some (of course not all) lost time. He purchases extravagant gifts for the children, and pays to have Janet go back to school and get her degree (which she only grudgingly accepts, and even then after pushing from her mother). By this time, Rob and Janet have finally let themselves fall back in love with each other, and they are both finally letting themselves be somewhat hopeful and happy for the first time in a while.Janet takes the kids with her one day before school starts so she can register for classes and get whatever supplies she needs. She calls Rob to tell him she loves him, and Lisa comes over to hang out for a little while. She's pregnant -- not Rob's -- and engaged. They make small talk for a while before Rob receives another phone call. Much like earlier in the story, there's been an accident.

Rob has another, much more mild breakdown as he reaches the hospital. Unlike his previous breakdown, this one shows him scenes of "what could've been": he and Janet getting married, him quitting smoking because he wants to keep up with his son on the basketball court, Janet's (and his adopted) daughter leaving for college, and finally him dying in his sleep next to an elderly Janet. He wakes out of his breakdown to learn that there was only one survivor out of the accident; she was badly injured and may not even walk again. After the funerals, Rob goes to the graveyard and is met by Janet's mother, who discusses how Janet had been against the idea of going to school at Rob's expense and how she (the mother) had talked Janet into it. She also mentions how Janet knew that Rob was still in love with her because Rob was "like glass" (a mildly recurring theme in the novel, hence the title), and Janet's mother proceeds to explain to Rob how the different properties of glass make it a very appropriate term: it's transparent, and with impurities it can be quite beautiful; it's fragile, but can also be very strong; it's very sharp when broken and can injure or even kill if handled incorrectly. She leaves, and Rob lays one rose each on his brother's grave, his son's grave, and finally on Janet's grave. He then leaves the graves to return to Janet's daughter, who is undergoing physical therapy for her injuries in the car accident, thinking that she's very much like glass as he leaves.


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