The Pedestrians by Rachel Zucker
Wave Books, 2014; 141 pp
Reviewed by Analicia Sotelo
Rachel Zucker’s The Pedestrians builds suspense with an emotional narrative that suggests something terrible is at stake. In the book, Zucker is a New York mother who asks herself if her life is pedestrian, and if so, if it matters. It’s easy to feel a kinship with her as she describes her daily life, making small, guilt-ridden decisions in that metropolitan city. When she retreats to a mountain cabin for solitude, she can’t escape the obligations of civility. In more than one grocery store, buying “soup seemed important” and at one point, she revels in the taste of pink Himalayan salt, which “glittered like drugs or a geode’s innards” (53,54). Civil society is something to question even at home, where she listens to her son explain cultivation:
this was the birth of culture
people didn’t need
to gather & hunt all day
so they developed language
& the ability
to kill everything (79, 80).
When not deliberating, she dreams about domestic situations gone awry, argues with her husband and struggles with her absolute desire for peace and quiet, all the while describing her life with great care:
Sometimes she sat there thinking about what it meant to be alive in one physical location instead of another, at one moment of time instead of another, to be one kind of animal rather than another. Other times she would pull the pocket door over that kind of thinking and sit and listen to the muffled sound of that kind of thinking while she made a clicking noise on her keyboard (45).
Like Jung, Zucker is obsessed with the ‘undignified, sick, paltry dailiness’ of our time, but she is humble about her obsession. Quoting him without naming him, she never tries to prove that her thoughts are universal answers. She wonders if a female epic could ever be written: “How can a mother write an epic when…I’m so terribly interruptible” (98). But in “The Pedestrians,” she does just that—she writes out the interruptions, the city in pieces, the family unit, the friends with opinions: “wherever she went they were with her” (71).