Review of the Ravickians
I don’ t know about you, but after finishing The Ravickians I was left with the feeling that I hadn’t understood most of what I had just read. Here is a link to a review done on Dzanc Books, which I found helpful.
“The production of these holes is one of the most amazing things Gladman is able to do with The Ravickians. Had she merely described them, merely enumerated the disappeared, the fled, qualified the lack of laughter in the street with the revving of an engine, the effect would have been poetic, even meaningful, but it would have failed to convey the dimension of these absences” (DeBeauchamp).
While reading The Ravickians, I found the passage about the translation of the word “yellow” to be particularly jarring. The narrator says that if we are reading a translation (which I suppose we are) then we would read the word “yellow” which is not the correct word to describe what she is seeing. “But, why talk about the air here if this is a translation you are reading? I will tell you about it and you will read me saying the word “yellow” and think to yourself science fiction. Well, perhaps I do have a complaint for my translators, especially those moving from Ravic to English, Why when I say dahar to you say ‘yellow’? I know that word. The air here is not yellow. It is dahar (yellow)” (43). This brings into question everything that we have read in this series thus far. Are we reading the words that the narrator wishes us to read, or are they an inaccurate description? We have explored the idea of untrustworthy narrators in a few books we have read this semester. In this case, it isn’t the narrator, but the “translation” that we are reading. The only option we have is to picture Ravicka the way it has been described to us, although we must keep in mind that its “true” form may be entirely different. This defamiliarizes us even more than the original description of this odd city, because we must call into question every thing we know.
Last class we discussed what the possible reasons were for the movement that is so frequently used by the Ravickians. They use this movement to communicate in a way that seems entirely foreign to us. While visiting Ravicka, our narrator seems to try to immerse herself in the Ravickian culture, wanting to know more about this new city and strange people. In doing so, I think we get some insight into the reason Ravickians use movement in their communication. “Stepping out of my room, I closed the door and dropped my daypack to the floor. I leaned against the wall and narrowed my eyes as if I might cry, but more to check for signs of crying. My ducts were dry. I threw my hand against my forehead, knowing something would be revealed in this gesture” (32). Here, the narrator is trying to extract emotion from herself, and when she fails she attempts movement to do so. I think this hints that the reason Ravickians use movement so frequently is because it is more emotional than simple speech. As we saw with the salsa dancer, their encounter was much more passionate than if it had begun with a “hello.” The Ravickians seem to be an intense and enthusiastic people, and words do not capture everything they try to communicate. By physically manifesting their ideas and emotions, they are able to convey their message to different degree than if they were to just use words.
In this section of reading, we come close to learning the wife’s name. “[A]nd as I walked I rang out her name, voiced it forth into the air, made the shape of its three letters, vowel and consonant and vowel again” (227). I would bet my bottom dollar that the wife’s name is Eve. If this is the conclusion we are supposed to draw, this brings into question the connection between In the Dirt and the Garden of Eden. While it is a far from perfect place, the area in which they live is somewhat reminiscent of the Garden in that they are the only two living there (as husband and wife) and they live in a very primitive way. They live off of the land, much like Adam and Eve would have.
Another aspect that is similar to the Garden are the themes of temptation that run throughout both stories. While Eve was tempted by the serpent, the husband in In the Dirt was tempted by the Fingerling. Both are creatures with evil intent, and when the characters yield to the temptations, they are met with disastrous results.
Something that became clear to me while reading this section was that the foundling represents (and inhabits) the four elements that are so prominent in this book (the house, the dirt, the lake, the woods). During the husband’s confrontation with the squid, we learn that the squid is the foundling’s father. “It said, what your wife cannot make, mine once refused me. It said, afterward, I tried to kill my wife as you tried to kill yours, but I could not succeed as you have…And then the squid spoke again, said, kill her for me…kill the bear, the squid said. Make fresh this world once again” (164). Here we learn that the otherworldly father that the bear spoke of previously is the squid. Once they inhabited the same form (woman turned to squid turned to bear?) and created a child together (a bear cub) that the wife then stole and turned into a human child. The foundling inhabits the elements that the husband describes in the beginning of the book-house and dirt (as a human child, or perhaps there is more distinction there, but I’m having trouble seeing it) lake (the squid as father) and woods (the bear as mother). The foundling is perhaps a failed unification of these elements, an attempt at making a whole out of the sum of it’s parts.
Here’s a link to a review published in the New York Times of In the House. While I think the author makes some interesting points, I suspect he read the book rather quickly, and missed some important points. For instance, he didn’t seem to understand that the wife had in fact stolen the child from the bear, instead saying “he convinces himself that the child is not his” and that the fingerling “an to wreak vengeance on his wife and the child to which she ultimately gives birth.”
One thing that was enlightening was the description the man’s decent into the deep house as a decent into his “own personal hell” which evoked images from Dante’s Inferno for me. I’m wondering if any connections can be drawn between the levels of hell in Dante’s work and the different rooms and themes that the husband encounters in his wife’s house. I think we can certainly draw connections between the 3rd circle of hell (gluttony) and the 7th circle (violence) where the husband encounters rooms full of the animals he had killed, and rooms where the abuse against his wife is revisited, as well as his attack on the foundling.
I guess I’ll take another whack at this bear thing. In my previous post, I connected the bear to the fingerling, thinking that their methods of destruction were similar. In class, Julianne put forth the interesting idea that the bear was the husband, but I think in light of this last section we can probably agree that isn’t the case. However, I don’t that theory is completely wrong. We learn in this section that the wife took the bear’s cub and made it in to her own child (sort of the same idea as a changeling?) We also learn that the bear’s voice has magical abilities much like the wife, and that the wife hurt the bear in the process of stealing her cub. While at first it may seem that the bear represents the wife because they have so many similarities and connections, I think the bear may be more linked to the marriage between the husband and wife. I think the way in which the wife hurts the bear can be likened to the way in which she hurt their marriage by stealing the cub and claiming the child was their own (I’m not saying, however, that the destruction of their marriage rests solely on the wife’s shoulders). It can also be argued that the bear’s decaying health is similar to the decaying health of the marriage, and that every time the husband finds a piece of the bear’s fur somewhere in the forest, it represents a failing of their marriage. “And the bear? It too worsened with the days, so that everywhere I went in the woods I found its fallen fur, the marks where it scraped it free of its itching skin, against boulder and branch and now bark-bare trunk.” I also think a connection can be drawn between the husband only killing things that aren’t the bear, and how he still clings to their marriage, or something along those lines. It also should be mentioned that the husband phrases everything in very accusatory tones, not recognizing his own role in the failure of their marriage. This is particularly evident in the last part of this section when he says “And in this room: How my wife made the bear weak. How she lay flat upon the dirt floor of our cellar, and put her cheek upon the ground. How she whispered songs into the earth, how with those songs’ reverberations she lulled the bear to sleep even as she kept her sleep restless, to delay her rival’s tracking, her waking attempts to move upon the dirt. How the wounds my wife had given the bear worsened, how the bone snapped free of the rib meat, of the fleshy parts of the neck” (103). It’s possible that here he is talking about the way his wife tried to hide the fact that she had lost their last baby, had stolen the bear cub, and in the end the “bone” of the marriage snapped.