My Absolute Darling: Beautiful, Terrifying, and Unsettling
For some reason, it seemed that wherever I turned in France, that my vision would fall upon a book with its strange title and its picture of spiky, emerald green needles, arrayed against the backdrop of the burnished brown of tree limbs, which appeared again and again in reference, in conversation with professor colleagues and friends, even apparently, nearly half a year ago - how strange it is to think how long I have been in France! - with the visit of the author to La Rochelle of all places, this relatively small and tranquil city in Western France. As with many other things, it was something which to me exercised no real pull upon my mind or interest, but rather percolated, allowed to sift, to worm its way through my subconscious, until later it blossomed into some form of interest and brought back all of the memories of it to the present. Or perhaps, as with other things, it is our way of selecting the memories of the past and to formulate them into a careful narrative for the present. But certainly it had puzzled me as to why exactly the book is so popular in France, seeing as it seems to me, to have been popular in its English language format, resoundingly so, in a country which still is for the most part attached to literature in its native language. And yet there it was, proud and unchanged, sitting tranquilly upon the shelves of the best bookstore of La Rochelle. As I began to dive into the pages the first thoughts emerged to my mind of it being a book for the French to snidely view the United States with their established prejudices, feeling comfortable superiority over these strange characters ensconced in the woods, festooned with their arms, almost a living image of the worst stereotypes of the amérloques. And yet as it continued, as this magnificent text unrolls in all of its literary genius, one begins to grasp why this book is one of such tremendous brilliance, why it is one which deserves to grace the shelves of countless bookstores, why it is a book which deserves and merits the countless list of awards which have been draped upon it, and one grows to love one's absolute darling of a book, loves it despite the pain, agony, and unease which it inflicts upon the reader within its terrible pages.
It is not a book which is easy to read. This is not simply for the literary language which is involved in its production, although this does exist, and is delightful - even for somebody who has, if I may speak with some degree of arrogance, a rather vast literary vocabulary in the English language, it offers up as gifts new words to the adoring eye of the reader. But to not know the word mucilage does little to impede the progress of the eye across the page.
The description of the purlieu which radiates out from the house, and of the house itself, is one which itself is well illustrated and brought to life by the genius of the author. As the first book which I have read which is actually based in the region where I live, with the names of town that speckle the maps and the places familiar to myself, the nature filled with places whose semblances I have trodden, the portraits which it offers are tantalizing and beautiful in their fidelity to the world which I have known, filled with the descriptions of the dappled waters beneath swaying trees in the woods, the kelp fields along the gray sands of the beach, the rise and fall of hills, the scattered homes in this rural land, the little clearings which are filled with both meadows and old and decaying trailers, the fierce pounding of the surf or the rising and falling of water in the draining of pools where scuttling crabs stand at the bottom of sunlight-illuminated shafts. It is a land of woods and of waves, and it is this dual spirit which is so brilliantly encapsulated in the novel.
To give the compliment of brilliant characterization can seem I think, to be an almost petty accolade. Of course, any great novel it would seem, should have vivid and excellent characters, distinct and human-like, ones who make us weep and laugh and express anger and pride and above all else feel. But this book is one where the central character is silent towards others, where Turtle says little indeed, preferring to remain taciturn and secluded. The genius of her character instead is reflected through her internal dialogues and her internal thoughts, ones which the author portrays with such magisterial sweeps of his pen. It may seem a strange moniker to provide for this, for the thoughts of Turtle may seem crude, offensive, crass, compared to some of the grandeur and splendor of the descriptions of nature and of events, peppered with the obsessive usage of fuck, bitch, and cunt. But it is this ability to provide for such dramatically different voices and thoughts which makes it such a brilliant work, which truly makes Turtle and her thoughts come to life. Of course, other characters do not have the advantage of being represented to us with these internal thoughts, but we still have a look into the spiraling mental state and obsessiveness of the father, and a feeling for the intellectual spirit, the care, the attention, which is expressed by Jacob. Every personnage who speaks within the book truly has their own unique spirit and sense of personality, making it a joy and a pleasure to read.
Which makes the horrors and the deep and unsettling nature of much of what happens within the book, the twisted nature of "love" and familiarity, so deeply impactful and profound. It is a book which builds over time to its crescendo at the end, drawing one into the web of the strange perversion which lies at the center, never quite revealing all of its painful agony, giving one the cloying knowledge that yes, it is wrong, but never quite providing the truly nightmarish realizations and fulfillment until the end. It makes it so that we cry out in painful baited hope for Turtle to extricate herself from the situation, which feels such compassion and such feeling of agonized sympathy for her torment and pain, which quails before her own indecision and the desperate need to overcome her own doubts and take her final choice to save herself and ultimately everyone else as well. We are the attendant servitors of Turtle upon her march towards her salvation, and it is our unbreakable link and attachment to her that makes the book ultimately so riveting, so compelling, so dramatic, so powerful. Its perfect marriage of hope, agony, pain, and twisted wrongness makes it an emotional spear directed towards the heart, one which we gaze upon with morbid fascinating.
For somebody who has always read books of the far away, My Absolute Darling is the first which happens relatively close to myself. Perhaps it is not a book which extols the unblemished nature of my region, even if it does present its beauty, magnificence, and grandeur, found within its natural environment. But perhaps above all else, for its most loyal and clairvoyant depiction of my home, is the bubbling sense of wildness which underlies its surface, of the fragility of human civilization and its laws which lies so sparsely upon the land. A garden, its imposition of human values upon the land, is the central crux of this, sabotaged and undermined as roots push up into it and as animals prey upon the fragile emerald green buds, deer rampaging through it, raccoons greedily scavenging, birds preying and alighting upon their prey. "Civilization", can triumph, it can draw from the woods its resentful, uncertain, damaged, scarred denizens, but it is one which never truly establishes its primacy, which is never without contestation, never unchallenged, in the land behind the emerald curtain, the great green wall, in this land of mountains and hills shrouded by the great mists and fogs which disconnect it from the world, in this timeless and eternal bubble where humanity exists as an oft uninvited guest upon an land which cares not for his presence. The book in its characters and its story is the perfect representation of the battles between not only hope and despair, between twisted love and twisted hatred, between virtue and evil, but above all else as this conflict between the wild and civilized, where neither shall emerge triumphant without leaving upon their antagonist the bitter scars of their struggle. For this saga, the swaying wild trees of the forest, where the wind whispers through the sharp green needles of tall trees around a decaying house, and the comfortable life of civilized man in his rational individuality, studies, luxuries, and comfortable sensibility, are ones which are played with such convincing and unparalleled power together, is one which truly encompasses and captures the heart and the soul of the coastal lands of Northwestern California, and for this, it is one which I shall forever treasure close to my heart, filled with a sense of tragedy, unease, and icy beauty.
© 2019 Ryan Thomas