Friday, March 26, 2010

The outcast's vision (Books - Thursday's Child by Sonya Hartnett)

What a dark and yet loving universe Sonya Hartnett has created in Thursday's Child. It reads almost as a hybrid of Walker Evans's dust bowl depression photographs crossed with a great novel looking back on hard childhood, say, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I offer up a photograph as a comparison with a novel because not only does Hartnett create a compelling retrospective voice in her narrator Harper Flute - at once naive in her child self and observant in her adult self looking back. She also creates several scenes that sear themselves on the memory as stark images. Abject poverty and loss haunt the Flute family. Loss of children, of means, and finally of dignity.
For a moment everything was strange. And then it was awful, and it hasn't stopped being that way. Sometimes I can hardly breath; I can't fill my lungs. I can hear him crying and he won't go quiet...
But deep beneath the earth lives a character who is at once a wild creature and also a member of the Flute family. It is his interaction with them that form the spine of this novel. This combination of fantasy and hard realism is my favorite aspect of Thursday's Child. Harnett also includes what I have come to recognize as her signature theme - the childhood experience of being the outcast. Not only does she tell of the pain of its exclusion, but also of the unique perspective it affords one. The place of exile often is a room with a view, and allows its inhabitant to develop powers of observation. I'll leave you with one of them, a portrait of behavior during the depression:
"But I'll tell you what I think's the worst thing, and it's to do with the ladies. Some of them, the only way they can hold their heads high when they've got nothing, no money, no milk for the baby, no husband worth having - the only way they can show the neighbors that they're still respectable people is to keep the house clean. The idea being, I suppose, that decent folk live in decent homes. And there's women going demented trying to make the house spotless, women who start to see dirt everywhere, as if it's got in under their eyes, women going slowly mad. The lucky ones get sent to the hospital but most of them aren't lucky. Most of them die jabbering on the kitchen floor, killing themselves to show they're upstanding. Dying for dirt in a dirty old world. It's funny, in a way: something went askew on the other side of the globe and now our mothers are losing their minds."

If you have yet to discover Sonya Hartnett, I recommend her novels highly. Here's my other post on this one as well as my posts on Surrender and What the Birds See.


Sherrie said...

I have an award for you at my place. Have a great day!

Just Books

Ted said...

I've been away for several days and just saw this. How nice of you - thank you!