Small Demon
Jun 242010
 

I bought this novel because it is set very near to places I grew up in Southern California. Specifically, the novel is set in Bombay Beach, next to the Salton Sea in Imperial County, California. The book catches the desolation of the place and of the people who live there in language of Sopheclean directness. My grandfather lived in the Imperial Valley from around 1900 until his death at 94 about thirty years ago & I spent many school vacations baking in the 100 degree heat. No landscape moves me as much as that of western Imperial County, with its bare mountains of tumbled rock descending to the sandy floor of the valley. It is surely among the poorest counties in the state, same as the one I live in now, in Northern New York — both are far from the center, affording people greater freedom (of a certain kind) as well as greater risks than wealthier, more settled places nearer the capitals. The greatest risk, perhaps, is loneliness.

Silver’s novel demonstrates what can be accomplished with the basic materials of realist narrative and style. The story is recounted by Ares, now an adult but recalling events that occurred when he was twelve. The plot is rigorously chronological and the prose limpid and without a hint of authorial narcissism. Ares and his younger half-brother Malcolm, who is severely autistic, live with their single mother in a trailer in Bombay Beach, on the Salton Sea. Laurel, the boys’ mother, has fled the pieties and restraints of a Midwestern childhood and come to rest in the desolation of Imperial County. The novel’s plot is too delicate a machine to summarize, but from the opening pages it is apparent that some terrible event will divide the characters’ lives into a stark before and an after. If the heroes of the Greek theater were doomed by the capricious but implacable decrees of the Gods, the ordinary people in this story are propelled toward their fates by the implacability of mere chance. But Ares, the god of war, discovers comes to rest in the strength bestowed by integrity — his mother’s, his brother’s, and his own.

 Posted by at 4:22 pm
Jun 232010
 

A friend from long ago posted some pictures of me & others (circa 1975) on Facebook recently that really, as they say, brought the memories flooding back. For many reasons — some of which I’m aware of & some probably not — I have been the sort of person who leaves people behind, a trait I have often regretted, but never managed to change. Perhaps I have been too selfish to exert the effort to maintain friendship across time & space. Perhaps I have wanted to preserve my memories without the complexities of present time. An only child, I have always tended to be secretive & emotionally distant, I think. The internet, though, has provided something I never could have expected, putting me back in touch with people going back to when I was 14 years old. Here is a picture with Mady Lund, taken by Jim Cervantes in 1976 — it captures an era & for me at least a whole universe of feeling.

 Posted by at 8:10 am
May 192010
 

We knew a little in advance — a comet was going to slam into the earth, or come so close it would suck the atmosphere away. C. & I decided to spend our remaining time with a friend & begin walking to her house. During our walk — through a neighborhood that, in retrospect, reminds me of Seattle’s Capitol Hill, a freezing chemical rain began to fall, coating everything with rime. We kept walking but thought this might be the end of things, but the rain slows & then stops & we keep walking. I see a child, almost an infant, standing alone on a street corner. There was a moment of looking around and wondering what we should do, but then I went over and picked the baby up and began carrying him with us to our friend’s house. “At least he won’t die alone,” C. said. We shared (silently) a sense of doing the right thing even when it made no difference. When we arrived at our friend’s house she was pregnant and bleeding from the nose. Her abusive boyfriend had hit her in the face, but he was still outside. The chemical rain began to fall again & we discovered that the infant we had rescued was dead. We sat in our friend’s living room, on the floor, a candle in front of us, waiting.