Here’s an interview with Renee Gladman done in 2011 as the second Ravickian novel was about to be released. There are a lot of ideas brought up in this interview that we’ve been discussing about the other books in this class: the term alterity being used (as seen from Lingus), the idea of this book being science fiction (Kawin), or, as Gladman likes to think of it, social-science-fiction, as well as gender, being that Gladman is the black lesbian poet who wrote this trilogy.
Since we have been discussing gender, my curiosity was increased when the narrator makes it known to us that this new child is a girl. (296) Is the female in the last chapter this child? Is the “cycle” that has been mentioned in class being started again? The narrator says “…and when I was not only the squid I could see it coming, a prophecy so sure it seemed a final memory, a history already past…” (302) and goes on to describe his wife giving birth and singing the “birth-song…more songs, one song to contain all others…all elements combining to make a world, to give that world a name, to give that name to a child, who might carry it forward, onward into…whatever other landscape she would make to call her own…” (303) I think there is a definite cycling pattern going on here, but I don’t think the exact same series of events will necessarily occur. I see this in terms of will and choice, and if this new female chooses the same paths as the females in the worlds before her, the same things may happen. Additionally, this goes to show that although the narrator in the novel seems to be the domineering character in the sense of appearances in the text and in the sense of power, the females seem to do more shaping and forming of the world – a much bigger power.
In finishing the novel, I still find myself very interested by the projection of time within In the House… Time is presented in such an atypical manner, that it is only natural that one must reach out in order to understand it. In class we had discussed the stability and instability of the novel – focusing mostly on the stability/instability of the body, etc. I, however, question the stability/instability of time as portrayed by Matt Bell.
The presentation of time as anomalous becomes extremely apparent once we reach the final third of the book. I say, even, the end identifies this point most precisely. Time does not act on each character the same, or, even, in each “world” the same. We see the mother/wife, aged, but then young again, the fondling, forever in a stasis of youth, and the father/husband, old, haggard, and oft teetering between life and death. These things all occur, even, within the same few pages, during the same timeline. While the father ages, the mother ages and reverts, and the fondling remains ever youthful and odd.
The changes in the world itself seem more linear, but they are distracted by the happenings within the characters. It becomes essentially impossible to view time as normal, or linear, even when our setting presents it as such, because a linear and normal timeline would not age and forget about the people within our setting. This is to say that, perhaps even, the characters interact with time differently than the “world” interacts with time – however, one must overpower the other.
In concluding In the House, I’m very interested in its circuity. We end with a character in the house, by the lake, on the dirt, near the woods… and some child splashing in the water nearby, as the character’s memory starts to rebuild itself, and to rebuild her on some level. As we’ve read throughout the piece, things repeat in this world; there is always a father figure and a mother figure, there is always a struggle to make or to keep children, there are struggles with the notions of ownership and possession and what it really means to be family. So I think it is safe to say that this text is marked by repetition. I think this theme comments on the nature of parenting and raising a child – even how this process unfolds in our world, too, bear-less and squid-less. With the process of parenting comes the grappling with originality and repetition on some level, right? A child is pieced together from people already existing, already solidified in their personalities and dreams and likes and dislikes, and physical traits. So that child and those parents face the dilemma of maintaining and cultivating the child’s individuality and originality, in the mist of repetition and pattern.
On p. 265, the narrator is lonely after his wife escapes, and he wishes “[t]o again live in a world of unfaithful wives, a world where mothers chose their children over their husbands.” Then he “admit[s] that no matter how [he] wanted her to be [his] wife first, still she had not been [his], not since the moment of [their] first conception, all those years ago.”
I found this interesting because we knew that the husband had been preoccupied with ownership at the beginning of the book, but I had never considered that he was ever angry for this reason. I had been much more focused on his jealousy that the wife got the attention of the foundling and that the foundling might not be really be the narrator’s son. I had not really considered just how much he seems to have been jealous that the foundling (or any of the babies who were not born) was taking the attention of his wife. I’m curious to know if anyone else first considered that at this moment in the text. And if this is the moment when we are supposed to consider that, why did Bell choose this moment – so far into the text?
Also, what does this tell us about the text’s overall commentary/objective. This is an interesting concept having to do with marriage and parenthood that I don’t think we’ve talked about yet – is it acceptable for parents to be jealous of their children over their spouse’s attention? Or is it right for a parent to give their children all of his/her attention at the expense of his/her spouse? What does the text think about this?
“Long ago, I girded myself against the woods with an armor of fur, with a trap chained to my skin…when I returned to the house I had to search again for some other method to clothe myself, some other way to make my intentions known” (275).
I found this quote interesting in light of our other conversations about transformation. While this one in particular is far from being the most drastic transformation we’ve seen, it is ultimately the one that has the most impact in being able to restore the wife’s memories of the love she had found with the narrator. In a way, this was not so much a transformation as a return to the roots from which their relationship had bloomed, an act that did not require the narrator to take on a new form so much as it did a prior mindset, yet the clothing he wears is essential to his wife’s recognition of him as “husband” rather than “stranger”. This made me return to the idea of bones having memories, and memories bones: without context, the wedding suit is just a wedding suit, hollow and without sentiment. To place the narrator within them, however, is to fortify the symbolic “bones” of their relationship so that its pieces can come together again, giving it a chance of being rebuilt.
What strikes me most while I’m reading In the House are not the other-worldly, surreal moments, but the moments that stay true to the world as we know it. I find that because the vegetables in the wife’s garden cannot grow because she forgot to sing worms into existence to make the soil fruitful is more fascinating than the fact that the wife can sing things into existence. This world Bell has created depends upon the aspects of the world he changes, as well as the aspects in which these things remain the same.
The best moment of this that I can find is on page 229, when the husband, upon seeing his wife again in the deep house says, “all I wanted in return was for her to speak some part of what I had come so far to hear: my own name returned, perhaps, or else an accusation, best followed by the terms of my eventual forgiveness.” This moment really threw me off. Forgiveness seems to be much too normal of an expectation given these extraordinary circumstances. My reaction to this moment was to postulate how she would even forgive him. What would she say? How is someone forgiven after they’ve done everything that the husband has done? Most bluntly, why would she forgive him?
The desire to be forgiven remains, but the ability to earn forgiveness is taken away. Perhaps the visit to the deep house (or underworld, as we’ve been discussing in class) is his attempt to prove himself worthy of her forgiveness, and that is why he seems to expect it once they are reunited. But it seems like the real and the unreal cannot coexist, at least not all the time.