The Solid Mandala
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In this novel, White's characters are again outsiders, living on the edge of society. Waldo and Arthur are non-identical twins. The short first part of the novel has a suburban matron gossiping with a companion about the men when they pass by, holding hands, inappropriately dressed, hurrying, unseeing in a race to nowhere. After this first exterior glimpse, the novel then proceeds in a long section narrated from the pov of Waldo, and then a long section narrated from the pov of Arthur. Despite their being twins, they are polar opposites.
Waldo for most of his life has worked in a library, and is constantly concerned with how the world perceives him. He is Arthur's intellectual superior, and he bitterly blames all his failures and shortcomings on Arthur. He looks down on Arthur for his menial position as a grocery clerk.
Arthur is the "idiot savant." He knows Waldo is unhappy, and tries to do whatever he can to make Waldo content. Unlike Waldo, he relates to people, and people like him. He is Waldo's opposite--empathetic, naive and loving to Waldo's calculating hatred.
As in his other works, White's prose style is unique and stellar. This is a book of character study rather than a book of plot, and it requires close reading, but it was nevertheless difficult to put down.
The brothers are a wonderful and detailed example of how White explores the complexity and opposing forces of the mind through characterisation. The idea of two parts comprising the whole (which is something I usually find trite) White portrays superbly and skillfully. Waldo through his calculated assessment/dismissal of Arthur and his own self perception (and ultimately denial), is unable to move on with life and his personal relationships. The bumbling Arthur undoubtedly the gregarious side of the soul holds a mirror to Waldo's constrained existence. Sometimes we dont like what we see in the mirror.
We all have these opposing characteristics/understandings of ourselves but how often do we acknowledge them?, this is something that White seems to understand no matter how painful or revealing (I suspect this is where many critics of White have issues with his work).
Initially I found this novel difficult to penetrate, but when one gets into the rhythm I too could not put it down.
Pity the book fell apart, it really does demand a re-reading.