CHRISTINE BRUNKHORST Star Tribune
“What Just Happened” by Charles Finch; Alfred A. Knopf, 268 pages, $28.
As sheltering-in-place begins, a “new community desire” emerges online, Charles Finch notes in his COVID-19 Yearbook. “There’s such brutality in everyone – the mix is so different than usual, the same amount of anger, but more fear, less certainty, and I think more love.”
The mood reminds him of when the first images of Earth were sent back from space and “for eight or nine days there was a sudden belief that since we had seen we all lived on the same blue planet , a new era of peace could begin.”
And then everyone started fighting again. “But what a great week,” he wrote.
“What Just Happened: Notes on a Long Year” is the journal you wanted to write, but were too busy browsing the auto-payment lanes or curled up in a fetal position in front of Netflix to get anything. Fortunately, Finch did. His keen-eyed narrative is lively and witty. It will make you laugh despite the horrors.
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This temporarily bewildered, well-read literary man — Finch is the author of the Charles Lenox mystery series and a noted book reviewer — misses his friends and the way the world used to be. There’s a hysterical disarticulation in his entrances that we recognize – and I don’t mean hysterical as in funny but as in jittery, like a plucked violin string, over the months.
I don’t relish the pandemic, but I enjoyed Finch’s articulate take on life in the midst of it. Missing his friends and mourning the world as he knew it, Finch’s narrative has a unifying effect the same way good literature affirms humanity by capturing a moment in time. As Finch recounts his routines honestly and without hindsight, we remember ours. The events of the past year and a half have been staggering and horrific, but we have endured them together.
Finch chats online with friends, soothes himself with music, smokes a bit of pot, takes long walks in Los Angeles, admiring her bizarre beauty. He misses his mom. He goes after billionaire politicians and CEOs. He writes forcefully about the societal inequalities laid bare by the pandemic.
Articulated and engaging, the account gives us the timeline we need because who remembers everything that happened? Remember when a predicted death toll of 20,000 seemed outrageous? Remember when races were rationed, sports canceled and President Trump said the virus would be gone by Easter? Do you remember the protests, the curfews and the horror as the whole world watched George Floyd die? Remember when the right rose up against looting like that was history? Remember when there was talk of a vaccine by the spring and when, from the first presidential debate “the alibi of a defeat of Trump [was] to lie like a smoke blanket in Vietnam? »
“If the Trump era is ending,” Finch wrote on May 11, 2020, “I think what will be the hardest thing to convey is how things went every day, sometimes every hour, so that you threw your body in front of a car to stop it.”
Finch conveys it all here with all the humor and pathos the era deserves.
Christine Brunkhorst is an editor and reviewer for Twin Cities.