"What we suffer is a kind of obliteration. Faith, all sense of trust blasted from our souls. Wherewithal and judgment from our mind. Confidence from our spines. Happiness from our hearts and nerve from the very core of our being. So many essential things cleaved from us..."
In Ross's novel, this is diagnosed as SLSD: Sudden Loss of Suspension of Disbelief
"That's why certain elderly people lose their ability to drive. They can't get up the nerve to pass or merge. Trucks in their lane send them careening toward the shoulder. They drive 55 in a gesture of desperate obedience. To calm their nerves, they observe the law to the letter. They've seen so much misfortune that they're paralyzed. They're convinced the road is full of imminent disaster."
When my mother was in her mid-fifties, my father left her for a younger woman, after 32 years of marriage. Then he went around telling everybody, including my mother, that he'd known the marriage was a mistake from the first night they spent together. He said at the time, and many times since, that the only reason he got married in the first place was that he was going to be shipped off to WWII and he didn't want to die a virgin. My mother was, understandably, devastated. She never really got over this huge rift that tore through the middle of her life, dividing it between "before" and "after" their divorce. She never remarried and never had another serious romantic relationship.
Around the same time that all this was happening, she started to be afraid to drive on the highway. First, at night. Then, anytime. She said she felt like she was going to fly off the road, and her fear caused her to freeze up behind the wheel so she'd brake and slow and finally just come to a dead stop.
Sudden Loss of Suspension of Disbelief. Looking back now, I think this is what ailed my mother. It wasn't that she had somehow lost confidence in her own driving abilities, it was that she'd stopped believing in the notions that had until then sustained her and made it possible for her to get through the day, including the faith that her husband loved her and an oblivious sense of well-being while whipping down a highway at 55 miles/hour.
What it takes to be able to immerse yourself in any fiction is that "willing suspension of disbelief." Maybe we're all so traumatized that we just can't do it anymore. If the novel is dead, is this the real reason why?