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Bounded Rationality

 

BOUNDED RATIONALITY

EXCERPTS FROM A NEW NOVEL

BY

PAMELA McCORDUCK

BOUNDED RATIONALITY

View the publisher's site, Sunstone Press

Order from Amazon.com

They're the golden couple of Santa Fe. With his vast wealth, Molloy has launched an innovative foundation. His new wife, Judith Greenwood, is an internationally known scientist, who works at the famous think-tank, the Santa Fe Institute, pursuing the sciences of complexity. They've found each other late in life, and their love story is the envy of everyone in town. Santa Feans yearn to be invited to the famous long table Molloy and his wife host every Sunday night, or to their monthly salon, for the best talk, the best food, and the best wine. Sure to be at these evenings are some of the couple's closest friends, the "starchitect" Leandro Torres, known worldwide for his prize-winning buildings; the influential gallery owner, Nola Holliman; and the beautiful trilingual legal translator, Lucie Marchmont.

Yet each of these enviable men and women conceals a tragic personal story. When 9/11 occurs in faraway New York City, these privileged Santa Feans are deeply affected, and most struggle to keep their secrets hidden. An intergenerational struggle erupts, where fathers and sons, and even grandfathers, intrude on each other's lives. As everyone negotiates the catastrophic autumn of 2001, two deaths, plus a nearly fatal car accident, intensify already raw emotions. Though each of these friends suffers deeply, and seeks consolation in very different ways, it is above all Molloy and his wife, the golden couple, who are forced to confront the cruelest meanings of the poem they've loved and read together, Paradise Lost.

The jacket copy above says something about the novel, but I'd like to add here how it came about. I wrote The Edge of Chaos—the previous book of what's now planned to be a trilogy called Santa Fe Stories—to embody in a novel many of the concepts that have emerged, been defined, and taxonomied as the sciences of complexity have developed over the last thirty years. As I said of Edge, it's not a handbook, but a story, and as I was writing that book, it became a love story (to my surprise) and then fundamentally a spiritual quest (to my even greater surprise).

I thought I was through with these characters, but they refused to be finished with me. Stewart Brand had teased me: "Now that guy needs to learn that making money is a lot easier than spending it wisely." He meant the financier Molloy, and the more I thought about it, the more I thought that Stewart had raised an irresistible challenge. I began again.

The golden couple, as I call them, has it all. Their joy in each other, in their work, in their life, is deep and pervasive. Molloy now begins to figure out how to spend his great fortune wisely, with his usual analytic detachment. But his real challenges come when he needs intelligence and compassion both—to be a good father, to be a good husband and companion, to be a good son. He sometimes fails. Judith Greenwood is, to all appearances, a highly successful scientist. But in science as in other fields, the gift can ebb. How will she meet with grace the erosion of what's been her central identity? How does the immensely successful but blustering architect, Leandro Torres, learn the limits of what he can expect from his shy but brilliant son, when he himself has been trying to escape his own father for so long? What happens to any life when a split-second event shatters it? How does life begin again?

At the end of Bounded Rationality, most of the characters are beginning again, having endured painful and difficult lessons. How deeply they have absorbed those lessons will be the stuff of the third book in this trilogy.

What follows are excerpts from Bounded Rationality, which I hope will whet your appetite for the rest of the book.


From Part I, The Initial Conditions

 Molloy's companion, a woman of his own middle age, puts her head back and stretches out, feeling a little bit stupid. When the captain closes the cabin door behind him, she murmurs: "You must've thought I was an idiot, offering you my frequent flier miles. I didn't realize…" She lets it go.

 "I thought it was very practical of you. Very dear." He squeezes her hand gently.

 She senses he isn't entirely at ease. He's begun on the Wall Street Journal. She opens the New York Times. Each of them knows this is a qualitatively different step. More significant. She lowers the op-ed page and watches him furtively as he reads, that taut face that's always seemed to her like a helmet, so self-protective. In the past eighteen months, she's sometimes thought of him as a thug. A desperado. An outlaw. Sumi-brush eyebrows (the only expressive part of his face, when he allows himself expression) top those brilliant, unreadable black eyes of his. In the last few weeks, however, the helmet has softened; the pouty bust-of-Apollo mouth has opened to smile with warmth. With heat. With joy. And then some.

. . .

 Yet Leandro Torres was an architect, not a comic book fantasist. He did want his buildings to be born into the real world. He longed for the feel of something built under his hands, filling his eyes, spaces he had designed to walk around in, to shelter, to inspire. He wanted recognition. He wanted some money.

 A compromise here, a concession there; a long and useful affair with a journalist who promoted his work in major publications (their parting, just about when he won his first major commission, was mere coincidence, he told her, told himself). This was a breakthrough, and he was suddenly acknowledged as a man for signature projects. More commissions began to come his way; people he wasn't necessarily shagging wrote important articles about him. Leandro Torres had become a celebrated brand. All it cost him, he thought, was his soul.

 To inhabit his new success, he was forced to give up gutter brawling and invent a new persona. His new persona was Old World: the courtly Spanish caballero who worked to a soundtrack of the cantes and staccato palmas of flamenco, his designs driven by the souls of Gypsy ancestors, the tragic view of life. It was distant enough from the real thing to give him some diverting moments. But in his new role of courtly Spanish caballero, he must now forego losing his temper and threatening to shit himself on somebody's god, somebody's mother, or insulting their marriage, their forebears, or their sexual heritage.

 


From Part 2, Strange Attractors

 When she lets herself remember, she sees them coming for her in the schoolyard, early afternoon, the sunlight softened by the high dense canopy of the trees. Mimin, her nanny, graceful in her long wrapped cotton skirt, walks toward her, wiping a tear from her right eye. Lucie sees the gold bangles on Mimin's wrist flash in the sun. Or maybe this is only how Lucie likes to remember it. "Come, my darling," Mimin says, holding out her hand. Her treacherous hand. "You will be safe."

 She'd understood for a year or more that she was not safe. She'd be curled up on the cushions of the rattan sofa, an open book before her, pretending not to listen, not to understand, as her parents murmured in code (the servants) over languorous cocktails late every afternoon—the insurrections, the bloody Communists, the possibility of children being kidnapped, held hostage. The child was wise and could break the code easily, even if those who'd learned English as a second, or third, or fourth language could not. Later she thought, who's to say they couldn't? If a ten-year-old understood, why not an adult, seething under the colonial boot, placed in the governor's residence to spy?

. . .

 But after ten minutes of silence, save the voices from the television, shock and hurt transformed themselves into scorn. Yes, she recognized this woman as her mother, but time had not been kind. The mother she remembered, the mother she'd dreamed of for a decade, Borneo Mother, was slender and chic, taking her late afternoon cocktails with a soigné cigarette in her hand. But this woman, London Mother, was sloppily stout—needed a better foundation garment, Aunt Evelyn would have said. She wore a dress of some unpleasantly shiny artificial fabric, patterned all over with tiny flowers, what Lucie recognized, with a year of art history behind her now, as derivative William Morris. Not a pattern any grown woman should wear. The dress buttoned up the front, and was too small, so that the spaces between the buttons gaped unflatteringly, exposing glossy underthings. Her mother's nylons were heavy, not the sheer stockings American women wore, and her heavy white summer shoes, vaguely orthopedic-looking, needed re-heeling.

 


From Part 3: Self-amplifying Instabilities

 "Anyway, as time went on, I wasn't interested in being a curator or an art historian, but I thought I might go to work for one of the big auction houses. My heritage, right? God meets Mammon. I speak four languages fluently, and that's a big deal for selling art. But when the time came, I—I didn't. I came out to Santa Fe instead. I didn't, you know, need to work. My father set me up pretty well. But I was looking for something. Some instinct told me I'd find it here. Maybe."

 "Funny. I came here for roughly the same reasons."

 "Did you find what you were looking for, Judith?"

 She spread her hands out—all this. My life with your father. "And you, Stevie?"

 "I don't know yet. I've gone through stages. At first I thought, well, I just want to be. I don't have to do. The little faun, remember that? But my stepmother squashed that but good. Oh, JAWS, she says? Just Another Wealthy Shithead? Santa Fe's full of them. Thanks, Judith."

. . .

 "But the reason I've exceeded even my teacher is strange. It's not because I'm more brilliant." Torres makes a self-deprecating little gesture that suggests he might indeed be more brilliant, but that's beside the point. "It's because—it's because I love the human body. My teacher was superb at design, and not bad as an engineer, but it was totally cerebral. He was afraid of human bodies. That they sweat and shit and piss and bleed. They get inconveniently horny. He despised the physical facts of humans. So he failed to understand what it was really like to be a human being inside a structure, inside a built space; that some spaces are congenial to the human animal, and some are just okay, and some are downright threatening."

. . .

 As the plane comes to a halt on the Santa Fe tarmac, and the steps are lowered, he sprints down them so fast that Nikki thinks he's fallen. But when she gets to the open door, she realizes he's racing to his wife, who has an ecstatically happy dog on a leash. He seizes Judith, kisses her hungrily.

 Nikki stands at the door, stunned. More knowledge is newly hers. First, that through her father's life runs a current of rapture she's never suspected, private but crucial. It will always prevent her from knowing him as well as she imagined in these last days. She also knows that such rapture is absent from her own life. Finally, she senses that these last days of sweet comradeship have been an event come once in a lifetime, and will never come again. The desolation of that truth shrivels her heart.

 


From Part Four: Orthogonal Patterns

 Stephen interrupts their conversation. "What's up, papa?"

 Molloy stalls. "Up?"

 Stephen could have asked sooner; he and his father have been speaking German to each other, not a language Annamarie knows. But her leavetaking makes intimate conversation seem safer. "This is the first time you've invited me. Invitations always come from Judith."

 That can't be possible, Molloy thinks. But maybe so. He wipes his mouth clumsily with a napkin, and can't think of any way to phrase this except plainly. "A few weeks ago, my father—your grandfather—showed up in my life."

 Stephen sits back, disbelief on his face. "Nicht zu glauben. Keine Scheisse?" Unbelievable. No shit?

 His father looks dubious about this American loan translation into German, shrugs, concedes. "Keine Scheisse."

 His son gazes at him thoughtfully. "How do you feel about all this?"

 "I don't know. Well, yeah, actually, I do. In a rage. Can't forgive him."

 "You were how old when he split?"

 "I wasn't even born yet."

 "Then blow him off, papa. Fuck him. Does aunt Char know?"

 Molloy takes his time peeling a pear. "That's kind of interesting. Yeah, Char's known where he was all these years, more or less. It was Char who told him no, he couldn't see me; then finally yes, he could. The only reason she told him it might be okay is—in her words, at long last I'm happy enough to be merciful."

 "Are you?"

 "I'm happy with Judith, you know that. Happy enough to be merciful to a father who never did shit for me? That I don't know."

. . .

 Molloy steps back, sees the older man take a breath of relief. Realizes he's been bullying this man. He folds his arms across his chest, tries to make his voice reasonable. "Let me ask you something, Jerry McCarthy. Would you have come looking for me if I was the steelworker I was meant to be, you left me to be? Though by now I'd have been out of work, collecting unemployment for the last, what? Fifteen years since the Braddock Works closed? Counting the days until social security? Would you? Would you have come looking if I had some crap disease, lungs, nerves, ruined bones, the usual legacy of the mills? Would you? No, Jerry, I don't think so. You've come looking because I made something of myself, just wouldn't let your neglect, your indifference, stop me. As an old bookie used to say to me, everybody wants to back a winner. Okay, here I am."

 "I think I understand your anger, and no one can blame you for it. I'm asking—I'm hoping—you'll go past that anger and let us know each other. Maybe forgiveness will come.

 "Let us know each other," Molloy says mockingly. "I'm an old trader, Jerry. What have you got to show me?"

. . .

 Mikey's voice rose. "Papi, no. It ain't gonna happen. I'm not leaving Santa Fe. I've got work to do here. I'm sorry I didn't make myself clear the first time you mentioned this."

 Torres rolled his eyes. "Make yourself clear? You made yourself clear, all right. I thought by now you'd have had a chance to reconsider, see where duty lies."

 "Duty? Papi, my duty is to my wife and children, and to my work. I love you dearly, you know that, but I can't do your work for you."

 "You won't? You refuse to do this for your own papi?" This with theatrical disbelief, the most monstrous affront he'd ever suffered.

 Mike assented silently.

 "Get the fuck out, then." In English.

When Mikey came back, which was seldom, he always brought the children with him so that serious conversation was impossible. Adriana too came alone once. When she left, Judith saw the pretty young woman in tears. "He's being a flaming asshole," Judith said to her husband. "That sweet loving family, and all he can think of are his damn buildings?"

 Molloy sighed, having had his own periods of such single-minded obsession.


From Part V: Cascading Failures

 The months pass and the jabbing lessens, though sometimes he'll be attacked again, feel himself bleeding when he thought scar had begun to form. Right along with the pain, he feels something else. He's being engulfed by, sinking into, something inexorable: a sea of cold, infinitely heavy mud, rising slowly, promising eventually to suffocate him. There is, there will be, no help. "Horridas nostrae mentis purga tenebras," he mutters, Cleanse the horrible darknesses of our mind, not realizing he's said it aloud until Judith asks him if he's praying. "Just quoting. Saint Augustine." Her face seems to say, thank God for that; that's all I'd need.

. . .

 "And Jay? There's something else. Last time I saw Molloy one-on-one, we did a hike at Tent Rocks. Jesus, that's more than a year ago. Maybe early last fall? I told him then that I'd noticed something was bothering you, and he better pay attention. Tell me what I was picking up from you then."

 She hissed. "Judith's little problems got swamped in the tsunami."

. . .

 Nola is terrified by this eruption. Fascinated by it. Thrilled by it. A warrior, hand-to-hand, an animal, tooth and claw, up against a foe that will kill—or be killed. She watches with fear, but also knows she's aroused, provoked, beginning to be seduced by a force in this room so primitive, so wild, it's been buried under civilization for millennia. Molloy is its conduit. Its keeper. A Molloy no one has ever seen is releasing it, loosing its power into the world. She stops breathing. He thrashes, grappling with invisible enemies that will give him no quarter. He will win. He will win. There's a madness about him now, a black energy that sends the teacups flying, a painting awry, and finally shatters two priceless and irreplaceable ceramic vessels.


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Modified: July 03, 2012