17.6.11

Book Quote Friday: Why Limit Yourself?

     Why limit yourself to reality, when I know (I just know) that you can imagine so much more happening in your head? 

      There's a whole look of stuff that can happen to a whole lot of people in just an average day when you open the door to the surreal and nonsensical and dream-like, as hopefully today's book quote will illustrate...


     Having fantastical things happening in a conventional narrative is called 'magic realism' and, as the name suggests, it's when magical stuff just happens in reality, without explanation, deviation from character or setting or change of shelf classification. The effect of it can be absolutely stunning, and I felt that this short story by Rose Tremain was the perfect example of that.
The Darkness of Wallis Simpson‘Moth’ is from Tremain's 'The Darkness of Wallis Simpson' short story collection from 2005 and it’s the only one from that that contains any unrealistic content, which means the unusual events of it all but leap out at you from the page. I was fairly stunned on my first read.
I think the setting of ‘Moth’ is also important: odd things need to happen in places that still cling to doubt, superstition and magic, so Tennessee is the perfect setting, with its own unique mix of smokey creative wide open spaces and Deep Southern religious sway. I just don’t think Milton Keynes would cut it; you need a culture that talks things into local legend and puts stock in the unseen and the unknown for a story to ring true (ish). The language of this story is certainly very strung-out storyteller, telling y’all since y’all asked over some whisky in a bar. So here’s a quote from it; it’s just a normal story until the baby takes off and starts to hang around on the ceiling.


“We were in Kroger’s supermarket when we had this conversation, with Ricky in our shopping cart and Lisa trailing along with a little carton of mango juice.
Pete and I were examining the thirteen different kinds of salad leaves you could buy at Kroger’s, looking at all their names like arugula and radicchio and lollo rosso that never used to be part of life on earth. We were so caught up with the arugula that we forgot about Ricky for one entire minute and when we looked round at him, he’d tugged off his T-shirt and was pulling himself up, and before we could grab ahold of him he’d started his hummingbird thing and lifted off above the vegetable display. He hovered there for a moment, then went flying away down the supermarket aisles.
We just stood there. We couldn’t think what else to do. And we saw all the shoppers struck dumb one by one and stand real still, gawping and pointing. In his usual way, Ricky had gone up to the ceiling which, in Kroger’s, was chequered with big panels of light. And I shall never as long as I live forget the sight of him crossing these light panels and casting sudden little shadows across the store. I know a lot of people in Kroger’s that day just didn’t believe what they were seeing. They thought Ricky was an electric baby, operated by remote control.
We waited and watched and there was no sign of Ricky coming down. He was in his element up there. So I went to the manager and said: ‘Sir, what I suggest is you switch off the overhead lights and then maybe he’ll decide to land.’ So in a moment or two the store went dark, except for the fluorescent tubes above the food counters, and we all called to Ricky and held out our arms, and in a while he came circling down and landed in a box of apples.’

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