Archive for February 27th, 2006

Vain lines?

Phone “tree.”

…a few vain lines in imitation of more learned men. (p. 58)
He lay with the book on his chest, now thinking that he’d always lived his life in hope of gain. When Joe Tenney, a better man, had lived in hope of gifts and giving. (p. 103)

—from Karen Fisher’s “A Sudden Country” (2005, Random House)

Ms. Fisher’s novel is a keeper. The setting is 1847 on the Oregon Trail. Her characters resonate and she reveals their hidden stories in slow, unanticipated pulses. She is very sensitive to the nuances of different cultures and walks of life, the very stuff of anthropology. Lest you imagine that this novel is “soft” and Victorian-kindly, here’re more of her words:

…by fifteen years of age, he’d learned what some of this world’s people could delight in. He’d seen a Naskapi pull off a captive’s thumbs on long tendons, to string through his own ears for bobs. Seen a line of fires built inside a hall, gone in with the people who sat on benches as though waiting at a theater. Seen captives brought in to run through flames, to have their toes cleaved off with hatchets and be made to run again…he’d seen one night of torture so long and so inspired, so hateless and considerate in its artistry, as had left him sure the minds of such people would forever lie beyond the reach of men like him, who did at least ponder now and then the reasons for things. (p. 115)

All these quotes refer to the same character, MacLaren, whose mental moorings fluctuate. I do not remember encountering the name Naskapi before now. Googling reveals that the Naskapi are an Innu (native) group from eastern Canada (Quebec, Labrador) who eventually allied with the French against the Iroquois Confederacy. Is this a clue that MacLaren has traveled to eastern North America? [I haven’t finished the book yet….]

Trivia: what if the powder (not ricin, but substance hasn’t been named) the University of Texas student found on her roll of quarters (given to her by her mother) when she was preparing to do her laundry is…soap powder! (Thanks, John!)

Underlying theme of this entry: the obscuring of truths.

Pledge: I’ll strive to avoid overemployment of “vain lines” in this blahg.