Thursday, February 23, 2006

Ambrosia for Thought

I've been reading "Blessing," a story by Charles D'Ambrosio in the Winter 2005 issue of Zoetrope All-Story. D'Ambrosio writes densely textured stories, overlaid with images and odd descriptions and seemingly out-of-place elements that create a swirl of associations and beg to be analyzed. I don't know that D'Ambrosio constructs these elaborate patterns in a conscious manner; most writers deny such control when asked. Nevertheless, that doesn't stop us, as readers, from drawing our own conclusions about what the story is about.

I'm going to pull some sentences and facts from "Blessing" without doing an overview of the story.

The first sentence refers to Mount Vernon, the second to Washington.

The protagonist and his wife have a neighbor named Mr. George.

The family's new house sits at the intersection of "Two flat strips of blacktop [stretching] away from it in all directions, falling off toward infinity"; also referred to as a crossroads.

"Perhaps we'd lived as nomads in New York for too many years, and maybe the twin luxuries of space and ownership made us dizzy...."

"That it wouldn't be taken away seemed a miracle."

"... a few high clouds scudded overhead..."

"I could hear Mr. George pounding away, the racket echoing above the river like rifle shots..."

The couple is visited by the wife's brother Jimmy, fresh out of the army; he's looking for money. With him are his Filipino wife Naga and infant son Joey. Also visiting is the wife's dad, who asks if Naga is short for Nagasaki.

"'We had to get out of New York,' I said. 'New York was depressing.'"

"I tried to chase my mood down, rummaging through thoughts and memories of New York, of the life we'd lived there, of the work we'd done and what we'd abandoned, of the people we'd left behind. I found nothing, nothing worth saving, and finally told myself it was atmospheric, negative ions from the squall."

Granted, these references are lifted out of context and from various parts of the story.

Nowhere in the story does D'Ambrosio refer to 9/11, terrorists, or anything directly related to 9/11. Does he need to? Can any American read a sentence containing both "New York" and "twin" and not immediately flash to the image of the Twin Towers imploding?

The surface story is about a couple who has moved from New York to Mount Vernon, Washington and bought an old house, too large for their needs, half renovated and half falling apart. As noted above, the wife's family comes to visit for a weekend, in part to celebrate the brother's birthday, but primarily for the family to "bless" the new house. The father is a crusty, hard-drinking, bitter old man. The mother is locked away in an asylum somewhere. Over the weekend, the wife's family copes with itself as best it can, with limited success, the narrator feeling that he remains on the outside looking in. Beneath the surface, the story is about America's struggle to face a post-9/11 world. The story ends with a wish. Not to be confused with a hope.

Or maybe I'm reading too much into it.