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The Good Soldier


Lyz Lenz Reads Ford Madox Ford

Every year around the holidays, I read a "classic" book. I use the term loosely, of course. It's an exercise I began 10 years ago, when I had a small baby and I was exhausted and I wanted people to leave me alone around the holidays. Brother in laws leave you alone if you are nursing a baby and reading Great Expectations. The project expanded, to fill in the gaps of my education and it has been fun to discover Madame Bovary in her astounding selfishness, or Lady Chatterley's Lover with all its dick puns. This year, I picked The Scarlet Letter, which I haven't read since high school, which was 20 years ago. And at the last minute, because Hawthorne's book was so short it felt like cheating, I picked up The Good Soldier by Ford Maddox Ford.

I didn't know anything about the book, just that Graham Greene called it a wonderful book and Graham Greene never seemed like the kind of writer who would fuck around about these sorts of things. The book is about wealthy listless couples who just go to the sea to recover from heart problems they never really had.

One of them is a soldier, but he does little fighting, instead, he just sleeps with women who aren't his wife. It's England on the brink of WWI and everyone is just wasting money and their lives. The narrator is manipulative. He begins the story, telling us this is the saddest story, because he lost what seemed to be the perfect marriage. As the book goes on, you realize there was never any perfection, it was always soggy and rotten on the bottom. A love story that's like a potato you pull out of a bag only to realize is soft and wet and now your fingers smell.

How did we get here? It's a question America has been asking itself since 2016, and again in 2020 it was a Greek chorus of lament: How did we get here? Our lives are right now, the saddest story. But like The Good Soldier it didn't happen by accident. People of color are dying from the pandemic more than white people, because our entire health care structure is built on systemic inequality. Parents are suffering in a pandemic because we have, for centuries, failed to pass the legislation necessary to help them. It was contrivance, we took too many unreliable white male narrators at their word because of our laziness, our inability to address the problems we knew were there, we just chose not to see. In sum, the soggy-bottomed rot.

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Lyz is the author of God Land: A Story of Faith, Loss and Renewal in Middle America and Belabored: A Vindication of the Rights of Pregnant Women. She lives in Iowa with her two kids.

A Word on The Author

If you haven't run across the name Lyz Lenz yet, you'll start seeing it a lot now. Lenz is a classic reporter, afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted. She's also a seriously good (but funny) writer.

You'll find her work on Substack, the author platform that hosts take-no-prisoners journalists like Matt Taibbi and Matthew Ygelisias. She's playing with the boys, and near as we can tell, beating them.

Subscribe to her column at Substack.

Lyz Lenz's Books

Graham Greene and Other Songs :: Brian's Playlist

Graham Greene ::: John Cale

The Book of Love ::: The Monotones

The Good Soldier ::: Nine Inch Nails

Happens To The Heart ::: Leonard Cohen

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