One of us lives on the east coast. One of us lives on the west.

One of us lives in a rural community. One of us lives in a city.

Both of us wander. Both of us witness. Both of us write.

This is a record of what we find.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Landscape of the (Monster) Body

**SPOILER ALERT** If you haven’t heard anything about A Monster Calls and don’t want to, then please don’t read on…

This is another one of those posts that I am going to write out of order. Where I write about a book that is currently on my mind and then relate it to landscape. I can’t help it. I just finished Patrick Ness’s A Monster Calls (inspired by an idea by Siobhan Dowd) and—boy oh boy—that monster came down off of the hill, into my house, into my heart, and here he has stayed.

Conor, the main character in the book, is suffering every which way. He is bullied at school, he has lost his best friend, his relationship with his grandmother is strained, his father is off in America with his new family, and, most critically, his mother is dying of cancer. He is also plagued nightly by the worst nightmare imagineable.

And then the monster comes. And he orders Conor to listen to three stories, and then promises (threatens) that Conor must finally tell a story too—his story—his truthful story. That is all I will tell.

(And even though I have just given you the bones of the book, I truly have not given anything away. I urge you to read this one…)

But Conor’s monster—oh his monster!

As Conor watched, the uppermost branches of the [yew] tree gathered themselves into a great and terrible face, shimmering into a mouth and nose and even eyes, peering back at him. Other branches twisted around one another, always creaking, always groaning, until they formed two long arms and a second leg to set down beside the main trunk. The rest of the tree gathered itself into a spine and then a torso, the thin, needle-like leaves weaving together to make a green furry skin that moved and breathed as if there were muscles and lungs underneath (5.)

A monster born out of a yew tree. How’s that for landscape becoming a central force in a story? Not only is landscape like a character, it is a character. Kind of stunning.

This book churned up many things from the center of my belly. One of those things is the memory of my baby sister Callie’s 6 month chemotherapy experience. She had cancer three years ago—I am relieved and thrilled to report that she is healthy and cancer-free today—and for 6 months she had to go every other week for a grueling round of chemotherapy, and she and my family created a ritual for her for that duration of time. My parents drove her to the treatment, then back to their house on the north shore of Boston, where they would spent the weekend nurturing her. They cooked her the few foods she could eat, they walked on the beach, Callie rested with the multitude of dogs that were inevitably there (upwards of 8, I believe!), and she recuperated as best she could.

I was lucky enough to be able to participate in this ritual three times.

my youngest daughter, me, and Callie

I could write an entire post about what that ritual meant to Callie, and to my family, and I could write a whole other post about my belief in that kind of nurturing as vital to the healing process, but for now I think of Conor and I think of Callie and I think of Conor’s monster—and I can’t help but imagine Callie’s monster too. Maybe he would be born of the ocean. Maybe he would rise up out of the ocean, his lips and nose and eyes made of froth and salt, his arms and legs made of seaweed and sand. I can imagine Callie going down to the beach to meet him.

What stories would he tell to her? And what story—what truthful story—would she tell to him?


1 comment:

  1. Oh wow, Tam.

    I've had this one on my list to read, but I must admit I am hesitant about letting the monster in... But now I will definitely pick this one up.

    And, more importantly, I'm so thankful your sister is cancer-free - joy!