Archive for December, 2008

Hess, Karen.  Brooklyn Bridge.  New York: Fiewel and Friends, 2008.

This novel starts out for seeming to be a certain kind of book–and continued to seem to be that for a very long time; but as it approaches its conclusion, it suddenly changes into quite a different kind of book, in a way that makes an especially interesting use of alternating narratives.

First off, the kind of book it seems: it seems to be primarily a charmingly nostalgic story of life for an immigrant Jewish family in New York in 1903.  The family history is based in real history: a family named Michtom did in fact begin to manufacture stuffed bears after a cartoon depicting Roosevelt being kind to a wounded bear cub appeared in the newspaper, and thus, started the ongoing craze for teddy bears.  It’s hard to tell how much of what happens to the family in the book echoes the actual Michtom family history, but one way or the other, it’s told in such a way that the focus is on good feelings and happy times despite bad things happening and comic nostalgia.  Joseph, the main character, tells his story in the rhythms of the kind of Yiddishy English redolent of heartwarming traditional schmaltz–Molly Goldberg redivivus.     Joseph is convinced his life is rotten–too much family,  too much time spent in the family business since the teddy bears took off, not enough time to be by himself, or go to Coney Island, which he longs to do (his longing for Coney Island doesn’t actually become apparent for a long time–he doesn’t mention it until the beginning of Chapter 16) but in between the preceding chapters are quotes from contemporary newspapers discussing the wonders of Luna Park, so it’s sort of hinted at before it’s said, at least in retrospect–which turns out to be yet another way in which the novel demands retrospective rethinkings of its readers; more below.)

For some time, the novels seems to be primarily episodic–each chapter describes something that happens to Joseph and his family that seems to be finished by the time the chapter ends–something that affects Josephe and that often teaches him something about his real feelings or about parts of his family history he wasn’t earlier aware of.   An aunt’s death reveals that she’s been responsible for bringing many people from Russia to America, a fact previously unknown to her family; or Joseph finds it possible to make friends with a brain-damged boy he’d previously been annoyed by, and thus helps expand a feeling of community and concern for others–building bridges.  Doing that kind of thing is also a habit also of his parents, who are constantly helping out others worse off than themselves.–thus all the good feeling and happy tears the novel seems to be designed to engender.

Running as a theme throughout these somewhat isolated vignettes, however, is Joesph’s ongoing complaining about what’s happened to his family–how the wonderfully successful bear business has taken over all his free time, how constraining and constrictive family life is.  He is anything but convinced about how lucky he is.

Interspersed with Joseph’s first person story of his hard lot in life are shorter bits in italics, told from an omniscient third-person point of view, which describe a group of children, unknown to the characters in Joseph’s story, who live together not far away from Joseph’s home, under the Brooklyn Bridge–victims of various kinds of abuse by their parents and other adults.  Their stories almost always involves some way in which these damaged and utterly isolated children find ways to help and sustain each other–and so they read like a kind of weirdly distorted parallel to Joseph’s story, except that this is a manufactured family rather than an actual one, and also, the children in it don’t spend their time complaining about how repressive the others are.  On fisrt glance, then, these interspersed sections seem to be there as an ironic counterpoint of Joseph’;s story–he thinks he has it bad?  Look at these kids who have it ever so much worse!  He thinks a family is a bad idea?  Look at these kids who don’t have one and have to make one up by themselves!  It reads like a nasty trick on Joseph, a way of undermining his self-pity and confirming how wonderful and warm and happy his family actually is.

So far so good–except for one small, strange detail:  the kids under the bridge all appear to have contact with another ghostlike child who comes to warn them every time they are threatened with death.  This insertion of something fantastic or supernatural into an otherwise realistic narrative is strange–especially since the realistic narrative is the schmaltzy kind of feel- good bad-things-happen-but-we-have-each-other sort of world where the last thing you’d expect is a group of unaided homeless kids and, especially, a ghost.  Nevertheless, the point seems obvious: this life under the ridge is all that Joseph’s life isn’t.  He should stop with the complaining already and enjoy the charming nostalgia and schmaltz of it all.

But then, very close to the end, a whole different thing happens–and suddenly, I found as I was reading, I had to reconsider everything–go back and imagine how this could actually have been being a quite different kind of book all along.  What happens is that Joseph’s family finally goes to Coney Island, as he has dreamed–this after he has walked all the way there by himself, swam in the ocean, had his clothes stolen, got very cold and hungry, and scared the wits out of his parents before the police finally bring him safely home the next day; he has now experienced something like a small but instructive version of the isolated and dangerous life the kids live under the bridge.  But on the family expedition back there again, they come upon Joseph’s supposedly dead uncle–the one who was supposed to have died trying unsuccessfully to save his son from drowning.  Joseph’s aunt has responded to these events by hating crossing the bridge and seeing the water, refusing to leave Manhattan for Brooklyn–but due to the death of her sister and a family wedding and others forces of change, she’s done it now, and there, suddenly, is her artist husband, alive and selling portraits form a booth at Coney Island.   She is furious with him, but they are both finally able to move past the past that has held them in stasis–to move on from a self-imposed rigidity.  Furthermore, it turns out that the ghost under the bridge is their son, whom his father buried there.  The boy is excavated, and is allowed to leave also.  Once more, a theme of moving on.

So–after many pages where the only connections are thematic ones, an actual  connection is made between the two narratives–the central boy of one is the cousin of the dead ghost in the other.  Each has observed death in his group, each has helped others past pain–they counterpoint each other.  Furthermore, the discovery that the ghost of one story is the dead cousin of the other ties together the two narratives, make them curiously one, even though there’s no actual contact between the characters in one with those in the other.  And the connection then requires a rethinking of what happened before it became known.  It especially points to  ways in which Joseph’s family history is a story of people held back from moving and then finding out how to move on:  his aunts who are forced to leave their secluded apartment and take new jobs when their eldest sister dies, his uncle who finds a wife, the woman the uncle marries, Joseph himself hating how the bears have taken over his family life, his brother giving up his own bear and feeling free of it, Joseph finally freeing himself of the memory of his dead cousin–all have to break down a wall that holds them in, cross a bridge and get somewhere else (the novel’s epigraph, from Isaac Newton:  “We build too many walls and not enough bridges.”  Joseph gets to Coney island, as he wanted–but what he finds there isn’t the freedom he expected, but it’s opposite, a family connection, another bridge that ties him into the life he has with his family–another bridge of the many he must accept and learn to celbrate. All that seemed anecdotal and heartwarming is that, yes, but also, full of unresolved pain and a complex set of thematically connected events that give the novel as a whole a structure that’s not only surprisingly complicated but also surprisingly meaningful, surprisingly tied in to a set of similar concerns being expressed in a variety of ways.

It’s telling that, while Joseph’s dead cousin gets his freedom, there’s no evidence at the end that the rest of the abandoned and lost children aren’t still there suffering under the bridge.   Learning to understand the value of what you’ve got, as Joseph does, doesn’t necessarily mean that pain or suffering or hardship disappears from the world around you–or even, for that matter, from your own life.  there’s an admirable toughness and honesty in this book about bridges and bridging that doesn’t forget the disconnected bits left over unseen under the bridge.

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Hesse, Karen. Witness. New York: Scholastic, 2001.

The text consists of a series of poems in free verse, each in the voice of one of eleven characters who all live in a small town in Vermont in the twenties.   The free verse here seems a little less free of verse than that in a number of other supposedly free verse novels I’ve been reading lately; each character does tend to have a distinctive voice, individual speech mannerisms and so on, and also, there’s some sense of implication–of wider meanings beyond the literal of the sort I expect of poetry:

daddy says:
how alone do you want to be, leonora?
you’re already nothing but a wild brown island.

So maybe this isn’t great verse but it is verse.

The novel describes events surrounding the arrival of the Ku Klux Klan in town.  The various characters express opinions about it–some favourable, most not so much.   The less Klan-favouring characters include a twelve-year-old African American girl and a six-year-old Jewish one, each in a family which is the sole representative of its race in the otherwise white, mostly Protestant town.  Each of these girls suffers from the prejudice of others–but also, as the novel progresses, finds friends and supporters, as a basic human decency emerges and then triumphs over the apparent appeal to morality and American values the Klan purportedly represents, and as knwledge of individuals triumphs over stereotypes.  As the Klan reveals an uglier side, more of the townspeople turn against it.

The novel then has the typical structure of fiction for young people–bad situations that get better, as horror moves gradually and apparently inevitably towards the utopian.  It seems neither convincing nor historically accurate–but I can’t deny it’s very satisfying as wish-fulfillment.  And in the midst of it all,  all sorts of other magical things happen, too.  A very prejudiced teenager learns to think of Jews and Negroes as individuals, even though he first flirts with the Klan; the Jewish girl and the black one both find the strength of character all on their own to come to the rescue of those who have made their prejudice against them clear and obvious–they;re ever so much better than their enemies, as, of course, all Jews and African-americans are.  Meanwhile, the worst of the Klan bigots has revealed a serious character weakness (he takes advantage of a young girl) and has left town (or died–it’s not exactly clear to me which), and many of the other townspeople have seen the light or developed the strength of character to publicly profess the anti-Klan feelings they’ve been hiding; the world is, by the end, a gloriously better place.  The novel has something like the structure of a traditional girl’s book, like Heidi or Anne of Green Gables.  The innocent, whimsical, and charming Jewish girl, a new arrival in a rural place, shows the way to her elders by charming them with her utter spontaneity and innocence and connections with the natural world around her, just as Heidi and Anne of Green Gables did.

So what is gained here by the use of the many alternating focalizers?  As I’ve discovered is typical in a book with a large number of alternating focalizers, the focus is on how individuals relate to a community.  Here as most often, many isolated voices tend either to become entwined into a more complete and integrated community, or refuse to do so and must leave the group–skip town.  Readers get to see how a range of different individuals react to the same events, how they see and make sense of the same things differently, and how their actions have differing impacts on each other.  Readers also know ways in which the characters affect each other that they are not themselves aware of–an overriding knowledge of everybody that gives greater insights into the meanings and implications of each of their individual perceptions.  Thus, knowing of the fear and sensitivity and basic niceness of the black girl as we overhear vher thoughts and responses, readers have information that contradicts and trumps the blind prejudice of the Klan leader and minister.  Readers also know that the teenage boy accused of shooting the Jewish girl’s father is not guilty, and who is, and so have that soap opera pleasure of hoping secrets are revealed in time to save the innocent.  As, of course, they are.

Witness is presented as if it were a play–divided into five sections, labelled Act One, Act Two, and so on.  But there is in fact nothing inherently dramatic in it.  There are no interactions between the characters–no dialogue except in the sections involving a husband and wife who talk together.  Otherwise, what all the characters do is just think about things they’ve already done and experienced–readers are privy, it seems to what goes on inside their minds, the one thing that theatre usually keeps us ignorant of (except in terms of how characters express it to each other–the exception, I guess, is the Shakespearean soliloquy, and these poems are indeed sort of like that).   There is, I guess, a kind if dialogue in terms of the ones readers can construct from hearing how the differing voices understand each other; but it is an act of readerly construction, not something that actually happens in the book itself.  So it’s only theoretically dramatic, a theoretical drama that develops in terms of the alternating structure.  As in other free verse novels, each individual section is quite isolated from and separate from all the others, and it’s up to a reader to work out how it all fits together and to see contradictions and connections and communal ties that characters themselves are rarely ware of.  In a sense, the structure creates the community, in ways the community itself can’t possibly be aware of.

So it’s a trick of structure that becomes thematic here, and that reveals aspects of the characters’ lives never really known by them individually or even as a group.  Perhaps all alternating narratives imply that sort of interactive meaning larger than anything known by the individual alternating characters–and perhaps all require this sort of relational work of readers, putting separate streams of information  together to see more than the characters do.  Which is what happens in the theatre as audiences view a well-made and well-directed and -acted play.  So maybe alternating narrative is inherently dialogical?

Katz, Welwyn.  Come Like Shadows.  1993.  Regina: Coteau, 2000.

The most noticeable thing about this novel is just how very, very complex is the situation it describes.  The plot centres around a production at the Canadian Stratford Festival of Macbeth, but also involves at least four different historical events: Shakespeare’s version of what happens in Macbeth, the real Scots history behind it, the defeat of Montcalm by Wolfe at Quebec in 1759, and the contemporary dispute between Quebec and the rest of Canada over the question of Quebec separatism.  All these are implicated in the Macbeth production, an attempt by its director to use the play as revelatory of the French/English political scene in Canada.  All four streams are meant to, at times, parallel each other, and, at other times, to diverge from each other in in significant ways.   Furthermore, the supposedly “real” history of Macbeth involves the actual existence of three witches, who are still alive and well in Stratford, Ontario in the present and still intent on doing serious mischief to others in support of hteir own power.   The novel probably shows that these streams do parallel each other; but it’s so hard to keep track of all the threads that sometimes it just seems pointlessly intricate and very confusing.

Like much if not all of Katz’s work, Come Like Shadows is exceedingly binary in its thematic concerns.  It involves not only the disputes between the various historical Scots and the binarily oppostional values they represent (kindness and cruelty, oppressors and oppressed, etc.), but also, those between the Scots in the play,  those between the French and the English in two different historical periods,–and also, not surprisingly for Katz, those between males and females and between male forms of belief and male gods and female forms of belief and goddesses.  Here as in novels like Sun God, Moon Witch and The Third Magic, there’s an ancient female form of worship that is in conflict with male views and seems in danger of escaping out of the past; here, of course, it’s represented by the three witches.  Here as in the others, I suspect, Katz claims to want the pure male and female to be seen as dangerous extremes, needing each other for balance and sanity; but here, certainly, the witches seem more malevolent than not–and the imperious theatre director who eventually joins their coven seems like some kind of caricature of domineering womanhood, a kind of femininity that the novel suggests the current world can well do without; Katz here as elsewhere seems distressed by the idea of powerful women (the mother in False Face is a key example) more obviously and virulently than she is by the idea of powerful men.

Perhaps because she wants to move past binary opposition to balance, Katz most often writes narratives that are alternately focalized between two central characters who do not, in fact, accurately represent the binaries central to the situations they’re involved in; they are then tempted to move to one pole of the binary or the other, but have to realize the doing so would be to deny the other opposite part of their nature, and be a commitment to incompleteness.  That happens here also–the central characters are tempted to make decisions or act in ways that would make them incomplete.  But as I understand it (or perhaps, don’t understand it, for I certainly don’t feel very confident about it), it does that in an extreme and therefore confusing form.

In a sense, then, the two main characters are living representatives of the French/English dispute.  She is of British descent, he of French  but then, she comes from Montreal, and has great sympathy for the Separatist cause; and he is an American who resents the prejudice against French Canadians in his New York home town and so tends to deny his heritage.  So both take a stance against that represented by their backgrounds.  (And perhaps both represent the silliness of extreme patriotism or cleavage to any group or principle–Katz doesn’t like the idea that people are sigjnficantly defined by their specifc racial or cultural heritage.)  Both are angry about the director’s attempt to impose the story of Wolfe and Montcalm and the Battle of Quebec onto Macbeth, but for different reasons.  She resents the anti-French stance it implies, he simply sees it as a distortion of the truth of the play (a position perhaps undermined by the insistence throughout that the play itself is a distortion of what actually happened in the history behind it).  So once more, neither actually takes a stance that represents a position in the political disputes being discussed–it’s her empathy for the other vs. his concern for historical truth, hardly even recognizable as a binarily oppositional dispute.  The alternation of their focalization does not in any obvious way reinforce or represent the political dispute being engaged with.

Something similar sweems to happen with the male/female issues.   Lucas and Kinny look into the bewitched mirror that figures centrally in the plot, which shows them what happened at the moment when Macbeth chose to defend a young girl from the witches and himself became trapped inside the mirror, and have different and perhaps opposite responses to it.   He identifies with Macbeth, clearly assigned the role of the male principle here (and a very benign and loving version of it, too).  Kinny doesn’t identify with anybody, but through her efforts to be helpful to others is nevertheless faced with a choice of joining the witches and thus attaching herself to female power (in a sense, then, she represents a variation of the events and values that have jailed Macbeth in the mirror, and make her more like him than like the witches).   But neither Kinny nor Lucas expresses or espouses or represents one of the extreme positions in a gender war that the novel postulates.  He’s not particularly macho or honorable, she’s anything but a primitive force of nature and divine darkness.  Once more, their alternating points of view do not mirror or echo or particularly throw light on that central binary-oppostional positions (except insofar as they don;t represent those positions and so comment on the extremism and lack of validity of hte positions).

Furthermore, Kinny and Lucas aren’t even obviously at odds with each other.  They do get angry with each other, have disputes, and so on–but these relate only peripherally to the central binaries.  They never argue about the French/English situation in Quebec, for instance,  or about whether men or women ought to run things or have power.  They actually spend less time talking to each other than worrying about each other without actually expressing their concerns.  Perhaps the most intriguing thing about their relationship is ow little actually engaged with each other they are.  The plot of the novel throws them together and the witch/mirror business makes them important participants in the central events, but they actually have very little to say to or do with each other.  Each seems too locked up in their own powerful relationship to the mirror to have much time for actual conversation.

So Kinny and Lucas don’t in any obvious way represent the binaries in conflict at the thematic heart of the novel; there’s a disjunction between the themes and the central characters Katz has engaged to reveal that theme.  In other words: the novel doesn’t do what most other alternating narratives do: have the alternating characters clearly represent different groups or ideas or principles that can then be engaged as the characters engage with each other.  Maybe that’s why the book seems so annoying intricate.  A reader can’t easily get to its central concerns hy means of understanding obvious aspects of the characters.

There is, though, one way the characters do represent an important binary.  Each looks into the mirror and gets caught up in it, but for different and perhaps even opposite reasons.  Kinny makes a bad wish and must then, she feels, atone for it; both the wish and the atonement represent her extreme empathy for and concern about others.  At the end, she is about to sacrifice herself and be caught up in the mirror over what is presented as to much empathy, too little concern for herself.  Lucas’s engagement with the mirror isn’t exactly opposite; he is indeed sort of self-involved, but its a form of self-involvement that also involves an empathy with the other.  He is fascinated by the Macbeth he can understand so well when he looks in the mirror–he has found the ultimate version of an actor’s empathy for characters he plays, a becoming other.  Lucas must stop being so involved in his own concerns, Kinny more involved with herself and less with others.  She must become more like him, he more like her,.  That, at least, seems like a traditional use of alternating narrative in a binary-oppositional context.

At any rate: all is very complex, very confusing in the transmission, and, I have to say, not all that interesting–not as compelling as False Face or Out of the Dark or even the fairly over-intricate The Third Magic, all of which equally deal with male/female issues.  I think that’s because of what I’ve been describing–because the binaries aren’t used obviously or effectively, because what the alternating characters see and think and do and be doesn’t necessarily encapsulate a thematic concern.  Am I complaining because the novel’s not simple and straightforward enough?  I don’t think so.  I’m complaining because there;s an implication of meaningfulness in the use of alternating narratives that doesn’t seem to amount to much of anything here.  so the alternations tend to seem like an excessive frill.

Lodge, David.  Thinks . . . . 2001.  New York and London: Penguin, 2002.

This novel is so elegantly and intricately built on its alternating focalizations that I’m tempted to identify it as a meta-alternating narrative–an novel in which the structure of alternating narratives is so completely linked to and expressive of its meanings that it reads like a textbook case of how and especially why to deploy this sort of fictional construction.  There are two alternating protagonists, each with a separate style of communication.  Ralph is a cognitive scientist who embarks at the novel’s beginning on an experiment of recording all his thoughts as they pass through his head, first via a tape recorder and then by using voice-recognition software; Helen is a widowed novelist who keeps a written diary of what happens when she comes to his red-brick campus for a term to be a writer-in-residence.

So everything is impeccably binary-oppositional: he is male, she female; he a scientist with not much imagination and a faith in reason and logic, she an artist who thinks in imaginative terms and in the context of a knowledge of literature (Henry James figures significantly); he a sexual predator and enjoyer of all things sensual, a lover of the body who believes there is nothing beyond the physical world science describer, and she an inhibited and isolated thinker. prone to distance herself form bodily urges  The novel’s title emphasizes the focus on what they think of each other and how they understand (or, often, don’t understand) each other beyond their actual encounters: it refers to the convention  used in old comic books  of using the word “Thinks . . .” to identify the contents of a speech balloon as a characters’ unspoken thoughts.  And it’s metafictional, then, that their styles of recording their thoughts also represent thematic alternatives: the formless free flow of a mind letting go of the demands of logic or audience for him, the organized staging of events in complete sentences of grammatically correct writing for her.  His experiment as a scientist is to try to capture exactly how thought happens, to be in the moment as thinking happens, to capture the almost-physical reality of undigested thought; her task as a novelist and diarist is to reorganize and shape events into a satisfying story that is inevitably then, at a remove form the immediate.

The novel operates, then, as a sort of intellectual dispute between differing and apparently opposite ways of handling one’s experiences and one’s thoughts about them–for it’s very much a novel of ideas, and filled with theories of cognition and such, and with descriptions of a series of paintings that represent differing theories of how consciousness operates.  Helen has an idea that novelists get to heart of how emotions operate–express a shared truth about how people feel and think about feelings; and yet also believes in the sanctity of personality, a oneness unique to each individual.  He believes that consciousness is a natural phenomenon explorable scientifically, but is constantly finding what looks like evidence of a uniqueness theoretically impossible, and can’t fight a suspicion that nothing actually exists but his own thoughts–that his consciousness is the entire extent of reality.  Both, then, believe in what they believe about consciousness and also in the opposite of what they believe about it.

In between the recordings of Ralph’s thoughts and Helen’s diary are passages which describe conversations between them and with others from an outsider’s point of view, in the present tense and offered without any insights into what any of the characters are thinking,.  This, too, is commented upon metafictionally in the novel itself: at one point, Helen talks about “the kind [of fiction] that doesn’t attempt to represent consciousness at all.  The kind that stays on the surface, just describing behaviour and appearances, reporting what people say to each other, but never telling the reader what the characters are thinking, never using interior monologue or free indirect style to let us overhear their private thoughts” (62-3).  In addition, there are assignments written by Helen’s students in response to her request for them to write in the styles of well-known novelists–another way of getting at the question of “style” or “personality” or the possibility of something human existing beyond what scientific explorations can uncover.  The e-mail correspondence between Ralph and Helen included at one point reveals another way of communicating differences in style.

The novel’s major concerns are the isolation of consciousness (and the corollary of that,  the sanctity of its privacy), and also, the extent to which it is unique–the question I suggested earlier about whether or not there is such a thing as personality, as being human in a way that transcends what science can understand or emulate.

The issue of isolation and privacy emerges especially in terms of questions about secrets. Ralph offends Helen by reading her diary without her permission, and thereby finding out about his wife’s affair with another man.  Helen, weirdly and hilariously, recognizes her husbands habitual behavior during sex in a piece of writing submitted by one of her female students, and thus comes to learn that he, too, had affairs before he died.  Both find out something that changes their sense of everything from thoughts recorded on paper.  It’s unclear whether that’s good or bad–mostly it just shows how little we know of what happens outside our immediate perceptions, how possible it is for us to be wrong about the thoughts and actions of others, and how successfully writing can give us insight into this other beyond our ken.  In that sense, at least, this novel is on the novelist’s side of the dispute between Helen and Ralph: writing can give us unexpected insight into others that can hep us to better understand ourselves.  Even so, Helen has to acknowledge that her writer;s insight into personality has not been working in terms of her husband–and Ralph has to acknowledge that his own personal and scientific knowledge of sexual opportunism has not prepared him to expect similar behavior in his own wife.   both have been overconfident about the extent of their knowledge of how other people operate.

These parallel secrets also suggest an interesting kind binary-oppositional variation going on throughout, so that the novel expresses yet another key aspect that makes the book meta-alternating: the characters’ experience versions of variations of similar events, and thus can confront those events and deal with them in ways that reveal their similarities and differences from each other and that thus add to the commentary on the binaries that are the thematic core of the novel. Thus, near the beginning, both masturbate for differing and revealing reasons in adjacent sections–and similar pairing occur throughout.   Also, readers know the secret thoughts of both of them, the ones they believe they have hidden form each other, so that we know how she tries to deceive him or he her about why they are where they happen to be at a certain time, etc., and also, how the other one misunderstood that behavior.  It’s the standard soap opera ploy of letting reader/viewers in on the secrets and thus privy to a wider knowledge of every event than any of the characters actually involved in it.  It forces us to stand back from any one of the characters’ point of view, to be thoughtful about everything we know instead of just accepting one character’s version of events–and also, to worry about how a secret known to us but unknown to one of the characters will affect that character.

Thinks . . . is a novel of ideas, and one that doesn’t ever get very far away from its ideas.  The characters aren’t especially deep or complicated or convincing, the plot is constrained by its need to support the intellectual binary oppositions it’s most centrally interested in.  That doesn’t mean it isn’t an entertaining novel, because it is, or often a wickedly funny one, because it is.  But it does suggest how much and how centrally it involves a debate between alternative and therefore, how thematically involved the alternating narratives and the focus on how different people see or think about things differently are.   Even the university campus–two separate facilities with an empty space between–is described as (and literally referred to by one of the characters as) an allegory of the Two Cultures, arts and science; and Ralph’s building is in the shape of a brain, with two hemispheres divided from each other.

Thinks . . . is far more obviously and completely focussed on its binary oppositionality than most adult novels with alternating narratives are–in that way, it;s more like children’s versions of this form.  But then, its degree of thoughtfulness and its intellectual rigour about the implications of its alternations easily distinguishes it from the children’s novels, as does its conclusion, which keeps the alternating focalizers as separate and isolated from each other as they always were.

Crace, Jim.   The Gift of Stones.  1988.  New York: Scribner’s, 1989.

Okay, I am admitting defeat on this one.  I have absolutely no idea why this novel for adults makes use of alternating narratives.  All I can say is that it certainly isn’t for any of the usual reasons I’ve been identifying in all the many novels I’ve looked at for this project so far, both ones for young people and other ones for adults (like, say,  Julian Barnes’s Arthur & George, Joseph Boyden’s  Three Day Road, or Audrey Niffenegger’d The Time Traveler’s Wife).

The fact that the novel involves alternating narrative is itself kind of slippery.  While there are two alternating narrators here, there’s nothing too terribly obvious in the way of typographical convention, etc., to make that clear, or to separate them from each other.   The bulk of the book is a story told by someone unnamed about the life of the man she calls her father, a man of the late stone age whose life is shaped by the loss of an arm in childhood, an accident which renders him useless at most stone age pursuits, and eventually, drives him into the role of storyteller to his village.  So it goes for five chapters. But then the sixth chapter begins, “Listen here,” my father said.  I’ll tell you what occured.”  And he then continues his own story, in ongoing quotation marks, until the end of chapter 13, at which point the quotation marks end and the novel return to the original storyteller.  The same thing then happens once more, with the father’s story in quotation marks inside the original storyteller’s story from the beginning of chapter 26 to the end of chapter 28, followed by three more chapters from the original storyteller.   So while the father’s sections are separated from the rest in discrete sections, they’re nevertheless clearly connected to the rest in being double-voiced: the original storyteller includes them in her story as quotes from her father.  In a sense, the novel then both involves alternating narratives and doesn’t involve them: its single-focalized and double-focalized at the same time.  Very slippery, and ambiguous, and hard to grasp or understand.

That’s particularly true because I honestly can’t say that I notice any significant difference or opposition between the two narrative voices.  They both talk about the same thing: the events of the father’s life.  While the main narrator appears in both as a young child, she is a minor character in both, and she spends almost no time explaining herself or her own feelings, focussing almost exclusively in what her father did and what it meant to him and others.  furthermore, he does the same thing, focusing on what he did and what it meant to him and others, and she often says that she’s just reporting what he has told her, and in fact, their voices sound more or less alike, except that she speaks of “he’ and he speaks of “I.”  If they’re going to be so much alike, and if he doesn’t say anything or add anything different to her view of who he is, then what’s the point of switching from one to the other?  I don’t know.

But I can say at least that there’s a lot of conventional ways an alternating narrative might have worked here that don;t actually happen. The book is rife with oppositions that might have been mirrored in alternating focalizations or points of view.  There are the practical stone workers and merchants of the village as opposed to the protagonist’s role as bard and encourager of imagination.  There is the comfort and organization of the stone-worker’s village as opposed to the wilder place on the shore where the storyteller meets the woman he falls in love with, Doe, a deserted survivor who sells herself to keep herself and her daughter alive.  There is the age and gender difference between that daughter and the man she comes to call her father, the storyteller.  There is the difference between the stone age stonecutters of the village and the orderly traditional life they lead, as opposed to the new ways implied by the bronze arrow that kills Doe, and that quickly kills the village’s livelihood.  All of these, key oppositions that the novel’s imagery makes much of,  might have been mirrored and represented by characters who would each give us one point of the view of the dualism.  That’s what happens in just all the other novels with alternating narratives.

But it doesn’t happen here.  I have a glimmering of the sense that it has something to do with one of the most central of the novel’s many binary opposites: the one between was might really have happened to anybody and the wonderful, exciting things the storyteller is able to make of those bare bones of fact–between truth and story.  A point made often in the novel is that, once the storyteller learns the art of storytelling and uses it keep himself alive, there is no longer any way of knowing if he is ever really telling the truth.  The daughter can report of his life before he enters it or even, after that, while she was a young child, only what he has told her about it, and always in the context of the knowledge that his habit is to embroider, to tell different stories to account for the same facts, and so on.   You might then expect that his sections might allow insight into the actual facts underlying the embroidery–tell us what really happened and how he really responded to it.  And they might, if they were giving us insight into his actual thoughts.  But they don’t.  Instead, they represent in a slightly different way what he has told his daughter, so that they are just as suspicious and slippery as the rest, even though the father starts his first section by saying “I’ll tell you what occurred.  I’ll keep it simple too.  I won’t tell lies.” Which might not be true.  Later, he offers three different versions of Doe’s death, in one of which he kills her himself–but none of these has any more status as truth than the others. So his sections merely confirm what hers have already established–if we expect truth, we’re not going to find it here, in this man’s version of events.  Paradoxically, both narratives agree on the undeniable fact that he is not to be trusted–and that therefore, nothing we have been told in the novel and think we know is to be trusted (the daughter never invites us to mistrust her veracity as a narrator–but how can we not, when the novel insists on the uncertain status of storytelling?)  So the narrative alternate to make the point that there is no story truer than another, or falser than another?  Once you start storytelling, you’re stuck with uncertainty?

And all of this uncertainty is in the midst, as I said, of many binary opposites and alternatives, and their status as opposites isn’t actually questioned: the village is different form the wild, the bronze age is different from the stone age, and so on .

Fori nstance, especially, one of the most interesting oppositions is that two central characters are hit by arrows that lead to great change.  The stone arrow that hits the boy’s arm early in his life leads him on journey out of the village into wild, new places, and into his life of storytelling as he returns to report on the strange things out there; it opens him, up to a new life, and the villagers up to a new life of the  imagination.  The bronze arrow that hits Doe later on, ther first seens by these people, forces them to give up their trade and allow the storyteller to move them out of the village and off into their own wild adventures in a changed and changing world.  There’s something here about the parallel between the wildness of stories and the less pleasant insecurity of being forced to give up what one has always known and depended on.  Being in the wild, whether it’s imagination or reality, is both exciting and unsettling, freeing and dangerous, satisfying and uncertain.

But still, I don’t get the reason for the alternating narratives–even though I do have a pretty firm sense that they do work and that I might after more thinking come to understand how.  In other words, the novel seems to possess a complexity and a subtlety I haven’t yet mastered.  I don’t get it.  What’s most instructive to me about that in terms of my project is that, even though the presence of alternating narratives in books for young people seems to imply a surprising degree of innovation and sophistication, I can’t think of a single example of an alternating narrative novel for young people that so studiously avoids the obvious thematic implications of this sort of construction and that makes so complex and subtle a use of it.  As I’m coming to realize more and more, the most interesting thing about such novels for young people is how, for all their apparent innovativeness, they express and confirm the conventions of literature for young people–how the genre works to pull innovation back into the same old ideas and ideologies.  Literature for young people, especially young adults, is certianly now more complicated than it once was, andm ore sophisticated–but it still tends to repress real innovation or individuality beyond what the genre has always reinforced and allowed.  The Gift of Stones makes that obvious to me simply by not being so constrained or repressed.

Godfrey, Martyn.  Alien War Games.  Richmond hill, ON:  Scholastic TAB, 1984

This is the third book I’ve read which describes an encounter of people from earth and an alien civilization in terms of alternating narratives, one human, the other alien; the other two, both discussed in earlier entries on this blog,  are Bruce Coville’s I Was a Sixth Grade Alien and Pamela Service’s Under Alien Stars.  The first two both involve aliens coming to earth, and deal with questions of how earthlings will deal with knowledge of a wider culture out there amongst the stars (although admittedly, that’s sort of buried by the front-and-centre opportunities for jokes and such in Coville and therefore only minimally significant).   But in this one, earthlings have come to an alien planet–which, intriguingly, puts the earth people in the position of being the colonizers and invaders.

In Coville and Service,  young people of both species turn out to have more in common than they first supposed, and are able, through their friendship and working together, to move past the potential disputes and disagreements of their elders.  And in both, that leads to great co-operation between two alien peoples, but also makes the human earthlings a smaller and less advanced partner in an interplanetary civilization–a necessary accepter of colonization by as more powerful group.  And for all the talk of equality and the movement of the plot from feelings of alien difference to acceptance of a basic shared similarity, it’s clear in both cases that the aliens retain the power and the humans must to some extent at least bend to their will (but of course, only after the events of the novel have revealed their basic core of recognizable and humane humanity).  In other words, allowing Us to recognize Them as being like Us allows Them to rightfully maintain power over Us and attempt to make Us ore like Them.  As I pointed out in my entry on Under Alien Stars, the colonialist implications of this are pretty obvious.  as all of that happens, furthermore, it’s clear that the apparent dialogue implied by the presence of two narrative focalizations is an illusion, and actually a bit of scam.  It’s obviously the human beings that readers will be more prone to identfiy with; and while the aliens learn to respect humans more than they did, the more significant message for human readers related to what the humans in the novel learn.

But what happens when the situation is reversed? Alien War Games begins with a prologue from the point of view of the central alien character, which means that the first sentence “The aliens have come,” refers ironically to the landing of Earth people, as viewed by outsiders.  That seems an invitation to identify first with this alien character, Darsa; and once the human protagonist, Gravis, is introduced, and turns out to be self-centred, petulant, and prone to racist assumptions about the aliens whom we already know are undeserving of his prejudice, the sense is confirmed that it’s the aliens whose side readers are likely to be on.  Sure enough, Darsa turns out to be strong, brave, selfless, etc., etc.–a perfectly identifiable-with heroine; and Gravis just continues to be a malevolent jerk who deserves and eventually gets his comeuppance.   So this novel, despite or because of its alternating focalizations, is as even more obviously one-sided than the other two novels; but, it;’s one-sided in favour of the aliens, who are more humane, and against the vicious, racist, human colonizers.

That’s significant, I think,  because the alien civilization readers are being invited to identify with and admire is described in terms that make it share many of the characteristics of North American aboriginal cultures, and because the relationships between the aliens and the earthlings are made to sound very much like those between aboriginal people and European colonists.  I suggested in my entry on Under Alien Stars that that novel might be read in terms of whiter/aborginal relationships; in this case that sort of reading seems almost unavoidable.   Perhaps not surprisingly, then, the author is Canadian; and the novel seems to replicate the themes and conclusions of many of the books I discussed in my essay on Canadian novels for young people with alternating narratives involving white and Aboriginal characters.   It identifies aboriginality with an understanding of the earth (or in this case, the home planet) and a cultural commitment to it.  It centrally involves disputes over land and where the natives will end up living and under whose control.   Gravis’s father tells him, “They’re pretty primitive, hunting and gathering most of their food.  We’re in the process of moving them onto specified homelands, so they won’t be much of a bother in the future”; and also, :”they do seem to be a simple and jovial people.”  All of this, and the implied identification with this alien species I discussed earlier, is bound to invite readers to identify with the aliens and perceive aboriginal values and lifestyles as superior to those of the conquering colonialist earth forces and their imperialist arrogance.

On the other hand, however, the earth forces are indeed more powerful, so that a tragedy of being conquered seems almost inevitable.  The novel does, however offer a way out of that, albeit very minimally–a friend of Darsa’s, who seems throughout to be the white Indian, the red apple who wants to learn the invader’s ways, become like them, and join the big world beyond (like the characters in the other two alien novels).  Throughout, that’s made to seem like a bad choice–Gravis, who befriends this character, makes it clear in his sections that he’s only using him to delude him, and Darsa, whom we admire, is constantly trying to talk him out of his co-option by the colonists.  But at the end, it turns out it was all a trick he was playing, to get the goods on the evil Gravis and reveal his underhandedness to more sympathetic earthlings, who will, we are told at the end, thus respect the alien culture more and work to treat them more fairly.  Just how that more fair treatment will not involve their gradual absorption into them or powerful colonial culture is not made clear, or indeed, even a subject that’s raised.   So once more, as in the other two alien novels, young readers are asked to identify with an underdog group doomed to become as much as possible like its other–but only after that other understands and adopts the underdog’s group better understanding of how to live in nature  and be at one with the planet.  Once everyone adopts what is understood as aboriginality, then the aboriginals can join the mainstream and be at one with powerful people who have co-opted and transformed their values into something less alien.  This is a pattern so prevalent in discourse by white North Americans about aborginals as to be almost universally present in all the alternating narrative novels with aborignal concerns.

Service, Pamela F. Under Alien Stars.  New York:  Atheneum, 1990.

In a future that sounds much like now, an alien civilization has been occupying earth for the last decade or so.  The alternating focalizing characters are a human boy, Jason, and an alien girl, Aryl.  To begin with the observe each other with disgust–her maroon skins and clawed hands and feet disturb him, and he seems soft and pale to her.  (Note how the alternating narratives put readers in the position of comparing their responses and seeing the similarity between their attitudes.)  So skin matters a lot here, and you’d have to be pretty ingenuous about American educational obsessions and the nature and purpose of books for young people not to suspect that an allegory about racial tolerance is going to develop.   When it does, though, it has its problems.

The basic and thoroughly unsurprising thrust of the plot is that, when forced by circumstances to work together, this boy and girl develop an admiration for each other’s skills and courage, and find a common ground in their love and concern for their parents–his mother, her father–that allows them to be see past their apparent difference to their essential similarity and fight for the same cause.  In other words, this book follows the absolutely most obvious path a novel for young people with alternating narratives might follow.

But in this case, they are forced to come together because an enemy of the aliens has now invaded Earth and humans and aliens need to come together to oppose it.  And while the original alien group is mostly humanoid in appearance and even to some extent in character, this new one is purely and utterly alien, disturbingly asymmetrical in appearance (they are described as looking like Swiss army knives wiht many appendages) and prone to an utterly uncompromised and clearly, we are asked to believe, inhuman violence against their enemies.  In comparison, the original group the girl belongs to seem almost human–yes, the blew up a few neighbourhoods here and there, but otherwise, they just rule the earth in as peaceful a way any superior alien force with powerful weapons might manage–and are therefore, it seems possible to tolerate and work with.  They may be Nazis, they may have a firm commitment to the superiority of those higher-up in a hierarchical society, they may misunderstand and feel disgust for the ways humans feel concern for and brotherhood with lower species like pets and even houseplants–but they’re not as awful as the really, really bad Nazis.  In other words, tolerance emerge beyond prejudice in a realization of fellowship and likeness made possible by the presence of something truly intolerable, something it is wise and just to oppose and feel horror at.  Tolerance depends on a larger intolerance–a just abhorrence of what is truly not like us.  If I were to follow the logic of this, I’d have to conclude that the Danish, say, might get over their prejudice against Norwegians by uniting with them against the truly awful Finns.   So much for tolerance and anti-racism.

But that apparent ideological contradiction is undermined by yet another one.  The original alien race is described as being highly organized and regimented, and not much valuing anything that isn’t rational, etc.  For that reason,  our heroine’s father thinks that maybe his people have something to learn from the humans of earth they have conquered:  “they’re quite spunky, really, and there’s much they could offer our philosophers and artists” (24).  That “much” includes a loving concern for others, like pets and such.  As often happens in SF involving alien races, we earthlings turn out to be more capable of feeling, more thoughtful, more sensitive–nicer than the others.   But as it happens, when it comes to uniting against the really bad guys, human art and philosophy are hardly what saves the day: its just lots of spunky bravado.  Jason is good at surviving and fighting, and so is Aryl, and that’s actually what bonds them: their mutual aggressive spunkiness.  So much for the special humaneness of the human contribution.  (And there’s something in that word “spunky”of that superior dismissiveness Mr. Grant had for Mary on the Mary Tyler Moore show–spunky things are cute and little and so surprising and endearing for their vociferousness.)

Under Alien Stars is very upfront also about another aspect of its allegory–its representation of what happens when one group colonizes another.  Aryl’s father belongs to what is identified as an “Empire,” refers to “imperial” matters, and calls earthlings “natives.”  This makes the gradual coming together of our two main characters problematic.  While the novel pretends that its a matter of discovering their similarity and thus equality, the facts of the original setup remain: one group is vastly powerful, the other is a conquered race on its own home ground.   At the end, Aryl’s father will recommend on the basis of the novel’s events that earth will become part of the Empire–i.e., although unstated at the point, a colony, and still held by force and in the control of the Empire, safe only in its agreement to be conquered and behaving as others think best.  Yet Jason sees this, at the end, in a surprisingly optimistic way:  “In a strange way, they [the human race] had won after all.  They had won back the stars.”

The abject defeat hidden by this unthnking cheerfulness becomes more obvious if I think of what the allegory here allegorizes.  In particular, what happens if I think of Under Alien Stars in terms of the aboriginal issues I’ve recently been considering in other entries here?  A homeland invaded by more powerful, more bureaucratic people with a more hierarchal world-view and less close ties to and respect for the earth and other species; and a developing understanding that, in these circumstances, accepting the lifestyle and power of your conqueror and becoming more like them in the hope that they might then become a little more like you: that’s the kind of thinking about native cultures that led to the creation in North America of the much-despised residential schools and other attempts to destory aboriginal cultures.

It seems to me, then. that this novel reveals, perhaps more clearly than many others with similar implications do,  some of the ugly underside of the conventions of literature for young people: the fostering of the idea that the best thing to do for less powerful beings with less experience of the larger universe out there is to accept the power and wisdom of those with power over you, and try to become more like them and at one with their interests.  That sounds like a repressive way of thinking about young people and adults–and a way that is surprisingly common in literature adults write for young people.  What’s particularly instructive about Under Alien Stars is how that conventional wisdom of literature for young people here gets applied to questions of oppressed and conquered people.  The usual happy ending of literature for the young–they get more like older people–now has clear and unfortunate political implications about racial and cultural supremacy, and those implications reveal the potential oppressiveness of the same ideas in our adult thinking about the young.

Hopkins, Ellen.  Identical.  New York: Margaret K. McElderry, 2008.

This novel is so over the top that it almost becomes entertaining for its sheer over-the-topness.  Almost, but not quite, because what’s over the top about it exactly what makes soap operas over the top, and so it’s just too expectable to be all that interesting.  Indeed, I’ve seen the central (and theoretically surprising) plot points of this novel over and over again, especially on (and I now admit to a secret vice) One Life to Live, which specializes in contradicting its own title, sometimes by having supposedly dead people return to life again, and often by having characters suffer from dissociative identity disorders–as is the case in this novel.  On One Life to live as here, furthermore, the cause of the disorder is the sexual abuse of the child by her father.  Under stress because of the accident in which one of his identical twin daughters died, and which has caused his wife to retreat from him, the father (himself, it turns out, a victim of distant and damaged parents and forced to partake in child porn films when he was 10) abuses the remaining twin–who then solves her trauma by imagining herself to be herself, the abused one, and also, alternately, the other twin, alive and there to look after her, as well as to indulge in drugs and sadistic sex with various unworthy boyfriends.  As the long and convoluted last sentence suggests, this is, quite simply, cream of condensed melodrama, with a surprisingly small cast of characters engaging in more nameable and ever-so-contemporary issues and traumas than you can shake a stick at:not just the DID and the father’s abuse of his daughter, but also drugs, alcohol, sadomasochism, bulimia AND anoxeria (one each for each of the main character’s two separated personalities), self-involved and unloving parents, mysteriously disappeared grandparents who return, a dangerously attractive and arousing male teacher with a nice butt, a parental affair with a neighbour, a pushy jealous girl at school, an unbelievably kind and loving boyfriend who’ll put up with everything and anything, and a partridge in a pear tree.

Well, not really a partridge–but all the rest.  And the characters discuss all of these and just about everything else in their life in terms of thickets of pyscho-therapeutical jargon–again, much like One Life to Live or any other soap on any other network.  In the light of its setting in a rich southern Californian upper-middle-class lifestyle, It’s has an OC or The Hills vibe, and is in that way astonishing similar to another recent YA book I’ve discussed here earlier, Marci Dermansky’s Twins (not California, but equally selfish princess-y) –but with poetry.

Poetry?  Yes, indeed, melodramatic pyschotherapeutic poetry a la self-inhvolved senstive types in Creative Writing 101.  Identical is yet another of the current plethora of YA novels written in what purports to be free verse.   As in just about all the others, the verse is so free as to me to appear to be free of verse   But here, as in Helen Frost’s The Braid, which I discussed in an earlier post, the ickily prosaic descriptions of a so-typical-it’s-stereotyped teenager’s stream of thoughts are, at least in theory, shaped (or wrestled) into something that’s supposed to look like poetry by means of a range of structural pyrotechnics.  The transitions between the two alternating focalizations occurs always on a double-page spread, the left side being the character’s whose voice we’ve been hearing in the past few sections, the right side being the other one who’ll we be hearing for the next few.   Both of these are set up at a series of parallel short stanzas the last short phrase of each of which is on a line by itself–and those phrases form a comprehensive sentence in themselves, and are repeated in both the poems, but with a substantially different meaning in terms of the differing contexts of the two different utterances.  Sometimes the imply opposite meanings, sometimes just different ones–which I guess confirms the book’s interest in issues of being identical but different–as the two twins are supposedly identical but different, and turn out in fact to be absolutely identical–one person claiming to be two.  Some of the transitional sentences make sense:

I wish
this moment
could eclipse
The shadows
around me
always haunting me

Some don’t:

Not me
I like it
I get off
he gets off
most of all.

In addition to these transitional devices, there are also a number of shaped poems–shaped in the most cliched of ways, like a poem about love shaped more or less like a heart or one about the father’s drinking shaped like a bottle.  And one makes a giant L followed by the single word “lust.”  Guess what it’s about?  hint–it’s not greed or sloth.

But for all that, and a bewildering variety of differing line lengths and other shapes and such over an astonishing 565 pages ofr angst, nothing ever sounds like anything more than an attempt to describe the main character’s thoughts about herself in a single, detached moment.  As in other free verse novels of this sort, the focus is on present-tense perception or self-analysis, and there’s little sense of how the individual moments are connected.  It’s very piecey and fragmented, and, for all its endless melodramatic excess of event, surprisingly uninterested in building a suspenseful plot.

And that, of course, is exactly why the novel can perform its main trick, which is to deceive readers into believing there are two main characters rather than just one deluded one.  (Something similar happens in terms of tricky uses of alternating narratives to represent what turn out to be varying versions of just one character or life in Brent Hartinger’s Grand and Humble, Brian Caswell’s Double Exposure, Michael Lawrence’s The Crack in the Line,  and Sonia Hartnett’s Surrender, so it’s hardly all that innovative an innovation.)  It did take me a couple of hundred pages to realize I was being deceived, although there were even then discordant notes, such as not knowing who had died in the family’s apocalyptic car crash and wondering about it, or worrying about why these two girls living in the same house never actually reported having conversations with each other about anything, and sometimes nevertheless seemed to know what has happened to each other in their separate lives (a few times I thought the author had forgotten which twin she was working with at the moment and accidentally given her the other one’s memories).  But (thanks to One Life to Live, I guess) I began to suspect DID fairly early on, and found myself desperately hoping that the novel wouldn’t go there, because it would just too silly, and, given the high-pitched hysteria of everything else about it, not being surprised that of course it did go exactly there after all.

In a more positive vein, I can also say that this is one novel that actually makes the indistinguishability of its two focalized characters work.  That’s problematic in other novels–like, for instance, Melanie Little’s Apprentice’s Masterpiece or Bruce Coville’s I Was a Sixth Grade Alien (both discussed here earlier), where supposedly quite different characters of quite different backgrounds sound just the same even before they discover their commonalities.  But here, they are in fact the same, so what seems a flaw in the writing turns out to be a clue to the real situation–although, I suspect, an unintended one, for the two competing personalities do keep insisting on their utter lack of similarity, indeed, their absolute oppositeness–she’s so insecure and I’m so brave–even while sounding exactly the same.

My thanks to Rebecca, who recommended Identical to me after reading my previous entry on The Braid (see her comment on that entry)  Despite my obvious unsuitability as an audience for its particular mixture of operatic angst and poetic pretension, I’ve learned much from reading it.   Most especially, it has confirmed my growing sense that, despite its apparent sophistication as a literary technique, the use of alternating narratives in fiction for young people tends to confirm conventional aspects of that kind of writing far more than it challenges it: as happens throughout literature for young people, it tends to involve exaggerated binary opposites (good and evil, home and away, etc.) that then mediate each other, and it gets used to confirm common and conventional thematic concerns (as here, for instance, coming together is better than being isolated, and grandparents may be better for you than parents are, and above all, supposed difference usually hide a shared similarity that can bring people together and make them one).  Indeed, as a literal example of how two apparently divergent voices can be inherently monological, it neatly represents something essential about literature for young people generally.