My work continued to go badly. I wrote more slowly than I ever had before, and continued to second-guess what I’d written, unable to escape the feeling that all I’d written in the past had been wrong, misguided, a kind of enormous mistake. I began to suspect that instead of exposing the hidden depths of things, as all along I’d supposed I was doing, perhaps the opposite was true, that I’d been hiding behind the things I wrote, using them to obscure a secret lack, a deficiency I’d hidden from others all my life, and, by writing, had kept, even, from myself. A deficiency that became larger as the years passed, and harder to conceal, making my work more and more difficult. What sort of deficiency? I suppose you could call it a deficiency of spirit. Of strength, of vitality, of compassion, and because of this, welded to it, a deficiency of effect. So long as I wrote, there was the illusion of these things. The fact that I didn’t witness the effect didn’t mean it didn’t exist. I made a point of answering the question I received with some frequency from journalists, Do you think that books can change people’s lives? (which really meant, Do you actually think anything you write could mean anything to anyone?), with a little airtight thought experiment in which I asked the interviewer to imagine the sort of person he might be if all of the literature he’d read in his life were somehow excised from his mind, his mind and soul, and as the journalist contemplated that nuclear winter I sat back with a self-satisfied smile, saved again from facing the truth.