Schwartz, Lynne Sharon. Disturbances in the Field
New York: Counterpoint, 1983
We hear a lot about nutritionally dense foods these days. Foods that are nutritionally dense provide high nutritional value in proportion to the calories they contain; they are the opposite of junk food, which delivers high calories with very little nutritional value. Disturbances in the Field is a nutritionally dense novel.
The book’s narrator is Lydia Rowe, a 42-year-old classical pianist married to Victor, a painter, and mother of four children. As a child she learned about the rhythm and balance of life by observing the waves on the shore, where she spent each summer’s vacation with her parents and younger sister. In college she and three roommates studied philosophy together and engaged in endless debates about the fine points of particular theorists.
Lydia and her roommates have remained friends and hold frequent meetings of the Philosophy Club to discuss all the facets of their lives. Other major characters are Victor and George, another college friend and Lydia’s former lover, now a psychotherapist. It is George who tells Lydia about field theory, a construct borrowed by psychology from physics that posits “a psychological field, or `life space,’ as the locus of a person’s experiences and needs. The life space becomes increasingly differentiated as experiences accrue” (“field theory.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2008. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 26 Apr. 2008). As George explains to Lydia, “the tendency is always to try for some sort of equilibrium in the field. To complete an unfinished transaction” (p. 4). A disturbance occurs in the field when a “particular need is not satisfied. You can’t move on. You get stuck” (p. 8).
In their own ways, all the members of Lydia’s intimate circle learn that abstract philosophical discussions cannot begin to do justice to the dense reality of everyday life. For each of them, enriching, intricate, complex experiences accrue. An important part of life is learning how to react when disturbances in one person’s field interact with disturbances in another’s. And when tragedy strikes on a seemingly ordinary winter afternoon, Lydia must learn to understand her particular needs, her unfinished life transactions, in order to discover a new equilibrium.
This is a novel that will stay with you long after you finish reading it. It encompasses life in all its complicated breadth and depth. It’s one of the best novels I’ve ever read.
Disturbances in the Field is a novel that you savor, like good food. It nourishes both the body and the spirit.
© 2008 by Mary Daniels Brown