Cynthia Ozick’s “Trust”: Exegesis | Tom Hanks on Jimmy Kimmel Live


First, having read 194 pages of Cynthia Ozick’s novel Trust, I submit one outstanding sentence to the fury of my quite impressive exegetical powers, as well as offer some off-the-cuff remarks about the importance of teleology in narrative.

Then, without missing a beat, I transition into commentary on actor Tom Hanks’ recent appearance on the Jimmy Kimmel Live show, in which the latter behaves somewhat peculiarly, channeling the comic sensibility of his yesteryears.

A report on Cynthia Ozick’s novel Trust (194 pages in)

Cynthia Ozick‘s novel Trust was written in 1982 [actually, it was written in 1966].

When I was only 9 years old. I had no idea what the word prose even meant, nor would I have had much interest. I had discovered girls, like Taffy Crall, Jennifer Stora, Jennifer Simonetti and others in my 4th grade class. And my parents had just returned from six months in the Philippines where their lives had been in peril, but I was only learning this.

Cynthia Ozick was already writing sentences about which I would one day, at the age of 48, think, in my profound modesty, “I could never write that.”

Reading a cryptic sentence closely (single sentence exegesis)

Image of Christ in the Cemitério da Consolação, São Paulo, Brazil.
Cemitério da Consolação, São Paulo. Wilfredor, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

The sentence in question:

Nothing in the world can be sustained, neither bugles nor hope nor woe nor desire nor common well-being nor horns, and even redemption, that suspect covenant, can be revised by the bitter and loveless Christ to whom nothing, not even life, is irretrievable. (53)

It’s actually a slightly perplexing sentence.

I immediately clung like a penitent to the second part about Christ being “bitter and loveless,” for this fits perfectly with my suspicions about Xianity. Namely, that there is something wrong with it [yes, you can quote me].

Of course, Christ as we know him from the Gospels is neither bitter nor loveless. In fact, he is to be in every respect the opposite of this.

Yet Christ’s powers separate him from the humanity he seeks to save and can therefore lead one to the conclusions that Ozick’s narrator reached. Can Christ truly love when he fails to accept human finitude and can raise even Lazarus from the dead?

The resurrection of Lazarus, painted by Giotto di Bondone for the Scrovegni (Arena) Chapel, in Padua, Italy, circa 1304-06.
The resurrection of Lazarus, painted by Giotto di Bondone for the Scrovegni (Arena) Chapel, in Padua, Italy, circa 1304-06.

Is there any experience more valuable in human life than the experience of mourning those who we’ve lost? Mourning is an experience of defeat. We cannot gainsay death. But Christ can.

And Ozick’s narrator recognizes this and understands it as a failure that even Christ must recognize and feel bereft in.

[I suspect no theologian—although probably a minister or three—would disagree with this description more generally, but might emphasize that these are respects in which Christ is a somewhat tragic figure. Moreover, this characteristic of Christ is not incompatible with his separation from human being …]

The first part of the sentence recognizes and hates (and loves) that absolute finality, mixing absurdly quotidian items along with some of our most noble sentiments. “Nothing” overcomes this finality, and Christ is cursed for being able to.

But is the prose enough?

The prose seduced me, thrilled me, titillated me.

Along these lines, no American writer exceeds the capabilities of Katherine Anne Porter, I say. Not even Faulkner [I once broke up with a girl for expressing similar, albeit not as well-dressed, sentiments—and actually I’m proud of that].

At least in her short stories, which is all that I’ve read of her.

But Porter also presents her characters in the most delicious details and positions them in the most breath-taking tableaus, as well as makes tacit the trajectory of the narrative. Yet I’m not completely sure that Ozick is doing that.

Admittedly, I’m only on page 194 and have more than 400 pages to go in order to complete this novel. And I have some idea where this novel is going: the narrator is going to learn what all of the complicated and not yet clear details about what the trust is as well as what trust is.

But I do not yet really know my narrator in any meaningful way.

Am I unjust in demanding that? Does Ozick have a responsibility to provide me with some knowledge of my narrator, such that I can being to make judgments about who this person is and whether she should or should not respond in such a way to the events occurring to her?

In addition to delicious, knotty prose we need teleology

We need to know where the narrative is headed [that’s what teleology is, in part, you Dummkopf].

But in 200 pages the narrator has been introduced to us only somewhat, as we visit her introduction to the society from which she is ultimately denied and then slip back into her childhood where she observes the madness of her mother [I think of Faye Dunaway in Mommy Dearest: No metal hangers!] and the carelessness of William and Enoch.

We see this girl’s curiosity and record her emotions, but we are also separated from those things. It’s as though we are seeing through her eyes but know her feelings and emotional state only in their reflection in what she says to others. We are looking through her mask.

Tom Hanks on the Jimmy Kimmel Live, October 2021

When Tom Hanks comes out from behind the curtain he says those adorable things for which we’ve always loved and respected Tom Hanks: “Oh my god, I’m on a talkshow.”

Which we [meaning me] interpret as Tom Hanks indicating that we have survived Covid and now can see the pointless banter between a mildly interesting host and his much more interesting guests.

Is Tom Hanks being a dick to Jimmy Kimmel?

Yet now I wonder if Tom Hanks was slighting Kimmel, saying to him, “you’re not even a talk show host. You just host a late night show that strives to be The Tonight Show but will settle for even less.

And I think even Kimmel took it this way, as his responses were so canned as to be boilerplate.

Is Tom Hanks high on cocaine?

And then Tom Hanks takes it away, allowing Jimmy Kimmel barely a word edgewise. He starts talking about his costars in the new film Finch, which is the reason why he is on the show to begin with. Talks about a cute dog on set and why his costar was wearing stilts.

Then he starts talking about shock jocks and AM Zoo morning radio shows and cannot help himself from riffing on what they sound like, affecting the voice in a sort of hilarious but also sort of weird way. It’s like Tom Hanks has completely given up pretense to a conversation or even the pretense to comedic timing because he keeps doing these impressions and then does them again and again.

The audience is eerily quiet.

Was Tom Hanks trying to be the entertainer?

Probably not, because he mostly ignored the audience.

Finally, why we’ve watched this clip to begin with, apparently Kimmel shares a clip from Bosom Buddies to honor Tom Hanks’ erstwhile costar Peter Scolari, who just passed recently from cancer (and which Tom Hanks calls the “emperor of maladies,” conspicuously).

In the clip, Tom Hanks—the thirty-some-years younger version of himself—exactly like how he’s acting in his “interview” with “talkshow” host Kimmel: manic, uncontrollable, kind of weird.

He sheds a tear, seems upset. Wasn’t that why we watched his entire thing to begin with?