Archive for the ‘three or four narratives’ Category

Foon, Dennis. Skud.  Toronto Groundwood, 2003.

Four boys who attend the same high school all face problems relating to their understanding of what it means to be masculine.  As a result, at least three things happen in the course of their alternations, as each speaks of what is happening to himself in first person in the present tense.–or, I suppose, thinks, for no audience is apparent: it’s that strange sense of a person naming each of his actions as he experiences them.

First: each of the boys has a separate problem, but all the problems are related to each other in being about manhood.  So there’s a sense of the novel as “case studies,” as each of the boys seems to represent one kind of problem related to being male, and so readers get a spectrum of key instances of the problems boys have with their masculinity.  Tommy, a military cadet, has invested everything on control, in masculinity as sacrifice and discipline and being the ideal man–the perfect hero, the perfect student, the good citizen–a representative of what my handout in the last entry identifies as “warrior masculinity.”  Brad, a hockey player, has taken what appears to be the opposite approach–he is the male as violent competitor, uncontrolled and predatory when he is at his best–a representative of “phallic masculinity.”  Andy, in counterpoint to these two examples of culturally acceptable masculinity, is a would-be actor with little sense of why he might try to achieve an ideal of maleness–but he is up for a part requiring him to act like a dangerous street kid, and so trying to understand what it would mean to be male in that way–so he;s sort of a representative of a male not yet masculinzed and looking for a male image.   And Shane, a fourth focalizer who appears a lot less frequently than the other three,  is an actual gang member understand as dangerously male by the others, but actually suffering from the way in which others perceptions of his dangerousness has led to the loss of his murdered brother and made him a strong representative of what’s wrong with normative assumptions about competitive masculinity.  Separately, each boy follows a path that reveals something critical about one standard way of being male.  Together, they offer a spectrum of  examples in an overall critique of conventional assumptions about masculinity.  (A similar use of alternating narratives about characters representing different versions of the same central problem as case studies can be found in Alex Sanchez’ Rainbow Boys, in which the three alternating focalizers represent differing attitudes to an awareness of one’s gayness.

Second: since all the narrators are thinking about what it means to be male or act male, their stories have intriguing variational relationships with each other.  Both Tommy and Brad are in situations where their ideas about how they might ideally be male get them into serious trouble–in evocatively similar (yet different) ways.  Tommy wants to escape the turmoil of his quarrelling and separated parents and violent mother by imagining a purer world, flying above it all–he wants to be a pilot.  And he sees his relationship with a girl as pure and spiritual, and so jealously destroys the relationship when he sees his girl act a love scene with Andy and imagines she’s cheating on him–and then, after she dumps him, as all the violent emotion he has pent up emerges, attacks and rapes her.   Meanwhile, his best friend Brad,  trained by his wildly competitive farther to be the violent attacker and then dumped down to the fourth line on the hockey team after violence goes out of favour, also ends up attacking a girl–thus one the brilliant skater who has replaced him as star of the team.  But Brad, comfortable with his violence, acts in what appears to be a cool and rational manner as he plots out his revenge–and also, incites Tom into the jealous rage that destroys him.  So one boy is controlled but explosive, the others exploding and controlled in his use of his own explosiveness–they are opposite but two sides of the same coin, and follow a similar trajectory.  Both also dwell on how what they are inside is different form how people imagine them–how they play out their forms of maleness for others.  Andy’s story then becomes a variation on theirs, as he literally tries to figure out how to put on a mask of masculinity.  And Shane is the ultimate counterpoint, the one already so damaged by his masculine image that he sees himself as consumed by it and empty inside, and is actively moving against it in the only way he knows how–which, eventually, turns out to be violence against himself.  Meanwhile, the two pairs of boys, Tommy and Brad and Andy and Shane, represent two opposing stories of male bonding, as one friendship ends due to conventional masculinity gone awry and another begins to from, before it ends tragically, with retreats from conventional masculinity.

Third:  I become aware of all that as variational only because I can know all the stories rather than what each of the characters knows–which is just one of them each, his own.     So the alternations allow me a detached ability to observe them all, and to make the comparison that make me aware of their thematic relationships as well as the actual encounters they have with each other and know about themselves.  I know more about the meanings of their actions than they ever do.  I can see how all represent not just differing but related forms of maleness but also, differing acts of observation and surveillance, different but similar problems with difficult parents, different but related secrets, and so on.  The alternating narratives give a reader tools for knowing more and learning more than the characters ever do–and potentially, for coming to share a greater knowledge of what it all means that the authors has carefully planted the seeds of even though there  is nothing in the novel that isn’t from inside the limited view of one of the characters.

The author, Dennis Foon, is a Canadian best known as a playwright for young adults.  The novel, he says in a note at the end involves characters from an earlier play called War, and has many theatre-like effects–first person present action, for instance, and a sense that the characters are naming their thoughts as characters in plays sometimes do in soliloquies.  And the sense created for readers of being an outside observer noting behaviour and thinking about it in order to develop an understand of it beyond that possessed by the characters is something that theatre often works to achieve for its audiences also.

“Skud,” incidentally is a word used in the novel where the wrod “shit” would more usually appear in real teen languag, as in “She suspects me of an impure heart.  She’s full of skud,”  or just plain.  “Skud.  She knows.”


Marsh, Richard.  The Joss:  A Reversion. 1901.  Chicago:  Valancourt, 2007

Marsh, best known as author of the scary and truly unsettling novel The Beetle (1897), was a writer of popular junk for inexperienced or unsophisticated adult readers–and not always a very good one.  His stories, for instance, collected in The Seen and the Unseen (1900) often start well, and then sort of just poop out, as if he’d lost interest, or couldn’t think of another twist to maintain the suspense.  and something similar, unfortunately, happens in The Joss, which starts incredibly well and then goes pretty steeply downhill, and ends without ever offering an adequate explanation of its main mysteries.

Indeed, the main reason for that descent in The Joss seems to be the presence within it of alternating narratives–or, I guess more accurately, not so much alternating ones as successive ones.  The novels consists of four sections or books, followed by an “Author’s Postscript.”  Each of these is identified not just with a title, but following the title, with a sentence identifying the narrator; thus, in Book I, “Mary Blyth Tells the Story,” whereas in Book II, we have “The Facts of the Case According to Emiuly Purvis,” followed by Book III, “Mr. Frank Paine Tells the Story . . .” and Book IV, “Captain Max Lander Sets forth the Curious Adventure . . .”  Mary Blyth, the first of these narrators, is lively and entertaining, and Marsh does an excellent job of communicating her stubbornness and fearlessness and vitality as she confronts some truly weird and fascinating occurrences.  But then, the other three narrators are much less lively and even kind of vapid, and while they communicate more of the events that involve Mary so centrally,  they never actually do clarify what they’re all about.  It remains a sort of Orientalist mystery, the mere fact of characters having allowed themselves to become involved in strange Asiatic religions and their godless gods apparently enohg to allow for all the mysteriously inexplicable happenings that occur in a dark houses in central London.  Readers learn how strangeness became imported into that house form the mysterious and clearly repellent East–but not exactly what the mystery is or why it’s so repulsive.  Perhaps this wouldn’t have been so disappointing if the first section hadn’t been so involving, for really there’s nothing spectacularly or unusually wrong here.  The second narrator is a typical frightened damsel in distress–only annoyingly weak in comparison to her strong friend Msry, and the narrator of the last section tells a quite typical story of intrigue and adventure and violence at sea.  It just somehow doesn’t seem enough because what happens to Mary is so truly disturbing, ands because she responds to it with such character and vitality.    Marsh seems to have figured out just how a story told by an interesting character in a personal way can add energy and dimension to a novel–and then, more or less, forgotten about it.

Nevertheless,  The Joss seems important to think about here because it is, as far as I know or have been able to figure out so far, the first example of explicitly asserting the names of different narrators for different sections of a novel.  I can’t think of another, in fact, until Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, published in 1930.  As most people usually think about it, As I Lay Dying would seem to be a much more typical kind of book to feature alternating narratives–it’s experimental, demanding, stream-of-consciousness, highly literary, an artifact of high culture.  So it’s intriguing that it should be preceded in this particular innovative technique by a book so clearly of the genre of junk literature.   And for that reason, it might be a particularly significant novel for me to be aware of in thinking about alternating narratives for young people.

One thing occurs to me if I think of the differing effects Faulkner achieves in The Sound and the Fury (1929) and As I Lay Dying.  Both offer parts of the story narrated from different points of view, but the first of them is more like The Joss than the second, in that it presents a series of four narratives from differing points of view, without ever actually alternating the narrators.  Unlike The Joss, The second Faulkner novel does alternate narrators, bringing each of them back again more than once, and has a lot more of them–which seems to be what might have spurred Faulkner to label each of their sections with their names, as he hand;t odne in the earlier novel; otherwise, As I Lay Dying would be much more difficult to figure out than it already is.  So the names are a way of communicating hard stuff to readers–a sort of didactic device.  No wonder, then, that they should appear in a book like The Joss, intended for less experienced or sophisticated readers whom one might well assume would have trouble figuring out that different people are supposed to be telling of different events unless it’s clearly spelled out–even when the stories being told are the easy and conventional thriller adventure ones.  That this sort of name-labelling occurs so often in alternating narrative for young readers might then equally reveal how their writers seem to he conscious of how this writing style might be stretching the abilities of inexperienced young readers. the names, in effect, make these novels a sort of theoretically sophisticated writing technique offered in its most simple and most available way.–the genre of writing for young people, once more, pulling back the unexpected and innovative into the area of what’s relatively easily knowable and acceptable.  And the names label sections in most writing for young people that are much more easy to make sense of that Faulkner’s streams of consciousness in As I Lay Dying.  The clear line between the popular novel of a century ago and the supposedly more experimental writing for young people of today is, I think, very illuminating.

One other thing that The Joss shares with a lot of alternating narratives for young people is that, while there’s a clear binary oppositions between good people and bad ones, with the bad ones all being very clearly identified as being from or being tainted by the mysterious Orient,  no bad characters is allowed to present a point if view of his or her own.  So we get four people all on the same side telling of events and confirming the same or similar impressions of the badness of the truly bad Orientals, just as many YA novels involves significant oppositions–between slave-owners ands slaver, or Nazi and Jews, etc.,–but never offer one of the people on the clearly wrong side as as focalizing narrator.   So a clearly binary oppositional world-view is not represented in a nevertheless binary narrative, as two people on more or less the same side disagree a little but agree in their opposition to the one clear and obvious enemy.  Once more, the clear line of similarity between a popular fiction of an earlier day and supposedly sophsiticated fiction for young people now is highly instructive.

Why, if they don’t present oppositional points of view, are there different narrators in The Joss?  It’s more a question of plot considerations, I think.  The four narratng characters don’t have exactly the same experiences, and each knows of parts of the mystery that the others don’t, or has experiences to report that the others don’t.  There’s a sort of filling in, going on then,  as readers learn more than any of the individual characters know of the story they’re all helping to tell.  Also, there are comparison being made, especially between the two female narrators, who are really quite opposite in character despite their friendship. And the all show us how the others seem to people outside themselves as well as what they individually feel and think inside–so there are other comparisons and contrasts available also.

The Beetle also has four successive narrators; more on that, possibly, later.

Myracle, Lauren.  ttyl. 2004.  New York:  Amulet, 2006.

This novel purports to be the transcripts of IM conversations among three 10th grade girls, who are best friends.  I say “purports” because, when I picked it up, I thought I’d be undergoing an experience in linguistic strangeness.  I’ve never IMed, and I understood it used a whole special jargon of short forms–as the title implies (I had to look it up to find out it means “talk to you later”). But it turned out i was wrong–apart from a few cute IM terms here and there, most of the conversation is written out in complete grammatical sentences–and accurately spelled, too, except for one conversation in which one of the girls has had a drink.  It’s hard to believe these three young girl could be such perfect typists–but I guess you have to sacrifice verisimilitude for comprehensibility.

The novel doesn’t really qualify as an example of alternating narratives, because the conversations it reports all involve the girls interacting, usually in pairs and sometimes in a chatroom all together.  In some ways it works more like a play than a novel, except that unlike a theatre audience, readers know only what the girls write and have little evidence in the way of facial expressions, etc., to help make their actual feelings or meanings clear.  In this way, the IMs recorded here are accurately like the real ones on the internet.  They purport to represent real people and feelings, but readers are mostly left with the need to trust; the writings may not represent real feelings, or even the actual writers that they purport to emerge from.

ttyl plays around with that ability to misrepresent and the resulting feelings of readerly insecurity now and then.  There’s one place where one of the girls pretends to be her own mother to successfully freak out the friend with whom she’s sharing confidences, and there another where one of the girls worries about how “real” they may or may not be:  “it made me start wondering how much other ppl r just images they made up, like maybe ppl lie about all kinds of things–how would we ever know?” (68).  There’s also, not often but every now and then, reminders that these IMs are not the whole story–that these girls have also interacted at school or on their phones, or even that they are simultaneously having IM conversations with other friends that readers don’t get in on.  If this is the truth about them and their relationships, it;s only the partial truth.

Nevertheless, the overall effect seems to subvert the possibilities for uncertainty.  What emerges for readers is a very clear sense of who these girls are.  They all agree on each other’s inherent characteristics, for instance, and so apparently, as they report, do their parents and other friends, so despite claims to uncertainty there is no question about who they really are and what really matters to them.  And readers who notice such things can fairly easily see that they are all in parallel situations, that each of the three have allowed another person not in the group to manipulate them and try to take advantage of them, in ways that they need to see through and move beyond–something they each eventually do with the help of the other two.   One falls for a boy who is playing around with another girl at the same time, one gets involved with a fairly young and religious-minded teacher who nevertheless seems willing to take sexual advantage of her, and the third wants to be friends with an in-group girl who happily takes advantage of her.   This is so obviously thematic and schematic that it’s hard to feel any uncertainty about it–the book is ever so clearly about characters who are readily understood, who accurately understand each other, and whom readers who are paying attention can have little doubt about understanding.

It interesting, then, that almost all books that represent writing by characters and especially written exchanges between character, play on questions of truth–but that often in writing for young people as happens here, the possibilities of uncertainty tend to be subverted by the structural and thematic conventions of the genre.  As in P.J. Peterson and Ivy Ruckman’s rob& and to some extent in Chris Anastassiades and Sam Carroll’s Noah and Saskia, which also both involve computer conversations, where people hold back information but turn out to be nice trustworthy people nevertheless, their writing accurately representing their sincerity despite the distortions of factual truth, etc. in it.  Writing is a way to lie but also, paradoxically  and more importantly, an expression of inner truth, a soul laid bare.   There’s an optimism about that that leads to the happy endings we expect of children’s and YA fiction.

The other thing that a book like this makes clear is how questions of truthfulness are key to the whole phenomenon of alternating narratives, which centrally has to do with revealing through comparison how different people represent themselves differently to themselves and each other.  All texts with alternating narratives, then, and especially those involving alternating focalizations through the points of view of different characters (as tends to happen even in IM conversations), have the potential to turn into versions of Rashomon.

Kerry Mallan discusses ttyl in “Space, Power and Knowledge: The Regulatory Fictions of Online Communities” International Research in Children’s Literature 1.1 (Jul 2008): 66-81, available online.  Mallan says, “This paper extends Donna Haraway’s notion of ‘regulatory fictions’ to young people’s participation in online communities. I argue that online communities produce a range of discursive practices and expectations, which attempt to constitute young people in particular ways. By combining recent empirical work on young people’s participation in online communities with the representation of Internet culture in young adult literature, this paper examines how participation, both real and represented, involves young people in a negotiation of complex networks of space, power, and knowledge. The discussion highlights how these networks are shaped by regulatory practices, protocols, and politics. The paper posits that new technologies are contributing to the emergence of a new social paradigm, one that offers young people possibilities for construction of multiple identities and social networks. The empirical work derives from a current Australian Research Council grant. The primary texts examined are Destroying Avalon (2006) by Kate McCaffrey and ttyl (2004) by Lauren Myracle.”

Swift, Graham. Out of This World.  New York et al: Poseidon Press, 1988.

More or less contemporaneously, Harry, in England, reminisces about his life with his bomb-manufacturing father while, in alternating sections, his estranged daughter Sophie, in New York, tells a psychoanalyst about her life, also often involving her grandfather, Harry’s father.  The two have parallel problems–an obsessive concern with how their relationship with their father shaped and even blighted their lives, and how their fatherrs have driven them away and apart.

Harry has responded to his father’s heroic activities as a solder in WWI and then as prominent owner of the family munitions factory by refusing to be heroic, and refusing to be next in line as munitions-maker.  Rather than making bombs and blowing people up, he has become a famous photographer of trouble, a visitor to and recorder of dangerous spots everywhere.  (The book is centrally concerned with photography and observation, and with the distancing effects of observation generally.  Harry’s choice of witnessing rather than doing is said to be an example of a contemporary malaise, a way we all live now–and the book questions if it is indeed morally purer, or in fact just another way of letting bad things happen.) Harry is generally depicted as someone who avoids contact with the real, then–although he’s always there watching and recording it.  It’s interesting that Swift here seems to be duplicating a playing around with metaphors of cameras and guns, triggers and capturing images and such, that permeates a lot of Canadian writing in the decades before this British novel was published–as in Ondaatje’s Collected Works of Billy the Kid and often in Atwood (The Edible Woman, for instance, and a number of poems.

In a somewhat parallel way, Sophie is convinced her life has been shaped, and not well, by her father’s distance, his lack of involvement in her life as a child  (where his role as father has been taken over by his father, at least as Sophie sees it).  She has retreated from his apparent lack of concern for her, which has come to exist because his fear of involvement with reality at first hand has spread from his father’s business to his relationship with Sophie and her mother.  And while she has loved her grandfather and married a man who is warm and to whom she seems emotionally close, there’s a sense that she, too is keeping herself distant, somehow–not just distant from her father, but distancing her real sensibility from her husband and children.  She is more than they know.   So she is more her father’s daughter than she seems willing to admit.  And she, like him with his father, has moved far away–out of his world.

And he is more his father’s son than he seems willing to admit.  The key incident in the book is the moment at which Harry’s father is blown up by terrorists–the bombmaker hoist on his own petard.  Sophie’s alienation form her father seems summed up when she runs to see the disaster and catches her father on a balcony upstairs taking photographs of it.  He is always going up and above, in airplanes, especially, flying over the awful events he records–out of this world, as the title suggests.  But here and elsewhere, going out effects those still in.  He had destroyed his relationship with his daughter by trying to protect himself from involvement with others.

The device of the plot here is that Harry is gradually now being brought down to earth through a relationship with a woman younger than his daughter–he is re-engaging in the world he has been afraid to enter.   And one aspect of that is an invitation to Sophie to come to his wedding.  She clearly wants the contact, and at the end, is flying back to England for a reconciliation that hasn’t yet taken place.

That it doesn’t take place–that these two isolates remain disconnected from each other at the end despite the promise of connection to come–is one way this adult version of alternating narrative varies from what typically happens in children’s novels.  These two are not characters divided and different simply so that they can become together and the same.  There’s a strong sense that neither really understands him or herself well enough to be totally whole–and so how can they be that together?  At the heart of all this is a subjectivity that is never totally understood by any subject–a sense that people are always infinitely complex, and always more complex than they even know themselves. That seems quite different from the subjectivity most often on view in children’s fiction, where even complex characters seem to be open to eventual understanding.

There’s also a very complex and subtle kind of counterpointing going on throughout this book.  Harry heads off to Nuremberg after the war to record the trials, and finds there the Greek women he marries, Sophie’s mother–a surprising contact merging from his distancing profession, something positive in the midst of horror.  Sophie later heads off to Greece to explore her now dead mother’s past, and find the man she marries, not an exuberant life-affrirming Greek but an affable safe Englishman.  There’s something sort of parallel and sort of not-so-parallel about all that.  And there are similar resonances between the two narratives throughout.  I suspect I could spent a lot of time working more closely with this text to learn a lot more about its complexities.  Indeed, I just might do that, because it seems from what I know now as if it would repay attentiveness.  Among other things, the various events that Harry and Sophie remember in each of their sections seem to have variational or contrapuntal relationships to what happens in the other’s sections immediately preceding or following them.  Both Sophie and her mother, for instance, have sexual encounters with other men, driven to it by Harry’s lack of contact?

Another way in which this novel differs from your typical children’s novel with alternating narratives:  while the vast bulk of the book is Harry alternating with Sophie, there are two other characters who get exactly one section each: Joe, Sophie’s husband, and then, two sections later Anna, Harry’s wife and Sophie’s mom.  We are now seeing, for just this once each, how the spouses of these two characters understand the events they’ve taken part in as described by their partners elsewhere.  The placement of these sections near each after and immediately afters ones by their spouses suggests that this, too, is part of an elaborate counterpoint.  But it’s the refusal to be held to a tight recognizable pattern that most strikes me: a children’s fiction editor would be upset that the rhythm the novel had established was being interrupted in this way.–it’s too surprising, perhaps.  But I have to assume the adult novelist knows what he’s doing in deserting his binary structure–or rather, not deserting it, but suddenly and surprisingly complicating it.

Horvath, Polly.  The Corps of the Bare-Boned Plane.  Toronto: Groundwood/Anansi, 2007.

Two cousins who don’t know each other end up living on an island in BC in the house of an eccentric uncle they don’t know, after all four of their parents die in a train wreck in Zimbabwe.  The uncle is an absolute isolate, and the girls move into his life without much connecting with him or with each other.  They hire a cook, an old Jewish woman with a thick Yiddish accent who has survived the holocaust and then had and lost all the members of her family–so all these characters has lost loved ones and are in pain and alone.  It’s all set up to move heart-warmingly towards connection, as one would surely expect in a book of this sort–and as seems to happen, in the last quarter or so of the novel, as the otherwise self-involved uncle weirdly gets into the Christmas spirit and orders all the ingredients of a pseudo-traditional Dickensian Christmas online, and plans are made for what ought to be the traditional communal banquet.

But in fact, there never really is all that much connection.  No one joins into the spirit of Christmas in any genuine way, and all remain more or less separate.  Just as, similarly, the girls sort of leave their isolation to get together on a project (finding the parts of airplanes they will then join together to make one plane and fly off the island), but then fall seriously ill, in turns, in ways that isolate them from each other–and then one becomes more or less addicted to a cough syrup mixed up by the Jewish woman’s friend (as does the Jewish woman also).  So these characters all pull back into their isolation from each other.

By this time they’ve also hired a butler, who looks after them all but who remains a mysterious stranger (he later turns out to be a plant, and is actually a priest, a friend of a friend of the Jewish woman, sent to look out for her).   This butler-priest, who is the character who readers are told is most concerned about and connected to the four others, is the only central character in the book who doesn’t ever get to tell his own story–as the other four do.  He has no narrating passages.  That’s mainly, I’m assuming, because the author doesn’t want to give away the secret of his being a priest, and thus gets to imply he’s something scary or dangerous a lot; but it also has the effect of isolating him, too.

The Jewish lady gets sick and cough-syruped-up and withdraws also–and in the end, never does become the warm loving mother figure who draws them all together, as she seems at first to threaten to be (she has a sort of clichéd Molly Goldberg[?] Yiddishe Mama quality).  She is like a stereotype-in-waiting wo never gets to live out the pattern of the stereotype.

There is, I can’t deny, some minimal sense of bonding among the members of the family, the two girls and their wacko uncle–but it is really ever so minimal.  They seem almost just to agree to their mutual absolute need of space, distance, disconnection.  The uncle secretly has removed all the bolts from the plane one of the girls does put together and try to fly, which means it can’t get off the ground and she can’t remove herself from him and the others,  But that’s about it–his only signal that he does care for her, or maybe, at least, feel responsibility for her.

Then it turns out that there’s a secret family story in the past, about the uncle and his brothers, the girls’ fathers’ father trying obsessively to train pilots to fly without instruments (in “bareboned” planes) and killing many of them, including two of his sons.  So there’s some sort of need to atone for history?  What has separated them all in the past means they need them to come back together again now?  Maybe–but then, why don’t they?

Okay, so this is all just deliberately wacky, sort of an old-fashioned Reader’s Digest Most Unforgettable Family story, except somehow darker and not so sentimentally hilarious and more threatening.   The eccentricity and weirdness seems to be meant  to be charming, but most of the time it all just seems unnecessarily and pointlessly strange–or even, as in the case of the pilot-killing father and the supremely unengaged uncle, more than a little of disturbing: I expect charm and I seem to be getting psychosis.

All of which has little to do with the question of alternating narratives, which is why I read this book.   So what about that?

It mostly alternates between the two girls, and lets readers know that they share a self-absorption in their own painful situations and see each other quite differently from the ways in which they understand themselves.   There are also a few, shorter passages telling what the uncle thinks and what the Jewish woman thinks–which then sort of disappear, as does contributions from one of the girls, for the most part.  So the closer it gets to what ought to be, in terms of conventional expectations, the moment of connection, the wonderful joining of isolates in a happy community, the more one-sided it becomes, the more just one story instead of a mingling of many.  Weirdly, difference doesn’t get erased by connection, but by even further isolation as we see mainly only what one girl experiences of the concluding series of revelations and contacts.  Indeed, this girl’s narrative finally becomes so central that it actually absorbs part of the peritext into itself–it’s this girl and not the author who provides, at the end, a vocabulary listing of all the Yiddish terms in the book, integrated into and the concluding part of her narrative.  This one voice seems somehow to devour and absorb all the others, who then get integrated, not in a mutual community, but  only as parts of her story. the isolation of egocentricity?

Indeed, the book seems to wind up very quickly and unconvincingly–avoiding the conventionally expectable heart-warming happy community scenes but offering nothing much else to replace them.  So it seems to working an isolates-apart-coming-together shtick, but there’s such resistance to the coming together that it seems to undermine its own narrative structure.  Is it a resistance to sentimentality, to the expectable, or what?   It seems to come down to a question of how people who prefer isolation can in fact find ways of connecting with each other that won’t compromise their privacy?  And how do you connect when you’ve connected (had loving relaitonships) and then lost the ones you connected to, as these characters all have?  (One of the girls was home-schooled, etc.–all led isolated lives even before the events that bring them together on the island).

A strange book that seems both to evoke conventional expectations and weirdly thwart them–but not in a way that seems all that cohesive or meaningful.  Also, I think, strangely seeming to be one recognizably conventional thing and not quite ever being that thing, not quite being what it seems.  Or maybe there’s something I’m missing?