Reunions and Reading

"Remember, as far as anyone knows, we're a nice, normal family." Homer Simpson

Recently, my mom, sibs, spouses, and assorted offspring all reunited for the first time in a long time.  Seven years to be exact.  Somehow, we all managed to negotiate the time off and navigate shuttles, airports, customs, rental cars, and driving on the left side of the road to arrive safely in one (beach) place to celebrate my mother’s 75th birthday.  (Full disclosure, I have a weakness for movies that come out around Thanksgiving and depict families in full dysfunctional swing.  Mmmm – some recognition there? )  We had a wonderful, grand time as they say in Newfoundland – some glorious highs, a few predictable lows, but mostly enjoying ordinary, everyday moments spent catching up on each other’s lives.

We’re a family of readers, so book swaps are inevitable when we get together.  I was just finishing “Cutting for Stone” by Abraham Verghese.  It came out of my backpack a bit rumpled and a lot dog-eared, but my brother laid claim to it immediately.  My mom was unpacking in the next room, so she re-gifted her copy of “Annabel” by Kathleen Winter.  I finished the first that evening and relished the second over the course of the week; on the beach in early morning, late at night, and in quiet moments above the family fray.

Both novels address duality: the former through the lives of twin brothers Marion and Shiva, the latter through the life of hermaphrodite Wayne/Annabel.  Themes of belonging, moving away, and coming back thread through both books: Marion muses on immigration as he flees Ethiopia and makes his way to New York and Wayne/Anabel leaves the loneliness of Labrador for the Battery in seaport St. John’s.  In both novels, fathers figure prominently, albeit often absent and always solitary.  (Why do fathers frequently seem to fare so poorly in literature anyway?)  Medical precision and political upheaval under-gird Verghese’s story; spare, yet lyrical description of the life and landscape illuminate Winter’s.  Marion and Shiva negotiate separate lives, as Winter’s intersex child struggles to live an integrated life.

Harold Bloom contends “We read deeply for varied reasons, most of them familiar: that we cannot know enough people profoundly enough; that we need to know ourselves better; that we require knowledge, not just of self and others, but of the way things are.”  I would make a further distinction. We read to understand, not only ourselves, but “ourselves in family,” not only to comprehend where we’ve been and what we’ve come from, but to imagine where we’ll go and what we’ll become.

As for my family, collectively and individually we’re often “nice”, but never normal.  Sorry , Homer  🙂



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