joeblog

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

joeblog

joeblog

"Mimi loved me but didn't want to see me with Lewis whom she loved more. I loved Mimi, Libby, Lewis and three of my foster children. Libby didn't love Lewis but she slept with him. I loved Lewis and didn't. She did love McCool but I had his body. He loved her but felt guilty because he never loved me and never gave me children. I loved him three times but it wasn't enough for any of us. Lewis could have loved Libby if he had dared but he didn't. He sort of loved me but was afraid to be seen with me. 'Old story. We were trying to become something new'". --Fanny Howe, Indivisible

Fanny Howe is not only one of my favorite poets, but I love her novels too. She has a way of bending the form to shape her needs. I'm always struck with the way she charges her prose with feeling until it seems to bleed on the page. Indivisible was sitting in my on-deck book pile for some time. I recently got to it and was not disappointed.

Indivisible's narrator, Henny, is an independent film maker, lifelong foster mother, and abused wife on a quest for the meaning of God. The narrative unfolds layer by layer, revealing Henny's life, and a cast of characters that make up the walking wounded around her. Missed love connections, spiritual redemption (or a lack of), death, loss, friendship, betrayal, longing, motherhood, social classes, gender politics and racism are issues that Indivisible investigates. Fanny Howe turns over one thing after another, constantly questions, but there are no answers. She exposes dark undersides that sunlight occasionally warms, but the sun inevitably sets and all is dark again. For the characters in this novel, everything in life is just out of reach, beyond their control.

As always with good writing, it's not only what an author writes, but how they write it. Fanny Howe's prose often reads more like poetry: "Heaps not hills and down we roll onto the flat plain, almost badlands, dry-dry and dappled with a variety of cactus red-tipped yellow-tipped or flat purple spatulas dimpling thorns". What a sentence! Howe's technique in Indivisible is to juxtapose time, place and event. At the same time her narrative point-of-view shifts from first person to third person, past tense to present tense. It's hard to keep your reading footing, but the cuts serve the narrative so that the experience is like watching a film. Pieces slowly come together. At the beginning of the book Henny tells us she once locked her husband in a closet with some rations. For the better part of the book, we hear nothing more about this incident. Only in the last section Henny brings us round to this closet scene. It all makes sense and comes together, though not perfectly wrapped with a ribbon and bow. Fanny Howe is too good a novelist for that. There's as much left open-ended. Closure is something you get in lesser novels.

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