Judith Clark’s One Whole and Perfect Day

Posted: August 19, 2008 in alternating narratives, children's and young adult literature, Judith Clark, more than four narratives

Clark, Judith.  One Whole and Perfect Day.  Crows Nest NSW: Allen & Unwin, 2006

As seems to be generally the case with books constructed in this way, this book uses multiple alternating narratives to describe how a bunch of apparently isolated characters manages to actually be connected in ways they’re not (in this case, yet) aware of, so that readers get to know connections they don’t–which of course allows for a soap-operish feeling (the effect you get as a watcher of soap opers when you know things from other scenes that certain characters aren’t aware of, that “Oh, if only he knew that she knew,” etc. ,etc.).   So such a book seems almost inevitably to come out of a wish for community  (although, outside of children’s lit, it might be used for just the opposite purpose, to show how people really are isolated, really don’t understand each other even when they think they do, etc.–Virginia Woolf, for instance, in Mrs. Dalloway, seems to focus on how characters meet without understanding or awareness of each other’s thoughts and lives?  The major purpose then would be ironic juxtaposition and a sense of how isolated people really and truly are, and how little they understand or connect with each other)  But in children’s lit, it seems opposite: it’s almost always about people being connected even if they think they aren’t.  (Fleischman’s Seedfolk is a good example.)
This book is a sort of hyper version of that: through a series of completely incredible coincidences, a bunch of people, some of whom didn’t even know they were connected to each other, end up at the same party at the same time, all the things that have been pulling various of them away from each other momentarily or permanently forgotten.  It is the essence of wish-fulfilment fantasy.  The n’er-do-well young man whose grandfather has given up on him meets a girl who turns out to be the daughter of a friend the grandfather has made independently and very strangely, etc, etc.  And even a long forgotten friend from the past turns up, too.  It ought to be annoying, but somehow it does work, as a sort of fairy tale of what ought to be.  Everyone acts on their best instincts rather than in terms of the other characters’ worst fears for them, and so all works out well.

But clearly, this question of individual and community, isolation and connection is key, to the whole concept of alternating narratives, and children’s writers are intriguingly drawn to the community side of things.  Are there exceptions?

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