Mannequin Monday – It’s Just as Well
“Show us a world we’ve never seen before.” A sense of place in writing. Not simply setting. A place. A world. Almost a character in itself. This Mannequin Monday finds us working on creating worlds with our words. I visit one of Louise Penny’s novels, The Long Way Home, for descriptors of a unique world.
I include a piece of my own writing. “The Rain is a Thief.” A short story of tragedy – and release – set in a black night of rain.
This Week’s Story
I am participating in a writing course from the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program. This week’s lesson centers on setting.
One of the instructors tells us, “Show us a world we’ve never seen before and we’ll never see again.” She continues. “You can create that kind of singularity simply by overlaying an emotional reality over that physical reality in a way that’s never been done before in quite that sense.”
Elsewhere in the course, “You’re not just setting into place pieces of landscape in which your characters are moving around. You’re also getting a chance to do some major work to show the gears that are turning inside of those characters, show what’s important to them, show what’s haunting them so fully that nothing in their gaze, nothing in their perspective is like escaping the sway of whatever that emotional situation is.”
Working on this course reminds me of the novels of Louise Penny, which take the reader far beyond murder and mystery to unique worlds of deep emotion. I am re-reading The Long Way Home. The tiny, remote village of Three Pines is set deep in the woods south of Montreal and north of Vermont. Within the village, a bistro is the center of much of the residents’ lives.
Penny describes the bistro: “Huge stone fireplaces anchored either end of the long, beamed room. Laid with logs but unlit now in the midsummer warmth, in winter the flames crackled and danced and defied the darkness and bitter cold.”
The bistro serves mouth-watering dishes. I’ll quote a sampling of food descriptions from this novel to give you a flavor for Penny’s adept skill at reaching her readers. These are all quotes:
- a watermelon. mint and feta salad
- a small platter of pickles, cold cuts, and olives on their table.
- whether to have the cedar plank salmon or the Brie and basil pasta for dinner at the bistro.
- two mugs of cafe au lait. And a bag of croissants.
- that orange, arugula, and goat cheese salad.
- quinoa, feta, and pomegranate salad
- French toast, with fresh-picked berries and maple syrup
- grilled shrimp with mango salsa
- Myrna spread a thick layer of brilliant gold marmalade on her English muffin. Then she dipped her knife into the raspberry jam and added it to the mix.
- Myrna spread a thick piece of toast with melting butter and jam.
None of these descriptions are merely sprinkled about in the story for color. Penny embeds them to share with the reader a sense of belonging. An emotional reality. Comfort, enjoyment of life, good friends, home. And in several of her novels, the bistro is also home to drama, even tragedy. All of it the reality of life in the village.
My Current Writing
This story is one of my assignments in my writing course. I attempt to put a character in a moment of grief in the midst of an enormous rainstorm.
The Rain is a Thief
The rain is a thief. Jackie Walker sat behind the wheel of her Audi A4 sedan. One a.m. in a hospital parking lot. A constant rain drummed on the sunroof, slashed across the windshield. Danced in the headlights.
An hour before, she was in her favorite bar enjoying drinks with her friends. A message came in from her son’s number. Come to Los Arboles Hospital. Your son.
The rain is a thief.
The ER doctor’s words had pierced Jackie like a barrage of needles. Massive head injuries…multiple fractures… could not save your son.
A gust of wind threw water against the car. She shifted in her seat.
Her phone rang.
“Are you okay?” Her friend Ramona.
“Do you know how noisy it is in a parked car in the rain?”
Ramona hesitated. “It’s nasty out there…but this might be the end of our drought.”
“I don’t give a shit about any drought right now.”
“Jackie, I’m sorry…do you want me to come get you?”
Jackie tilted her seat back. Stared up at the rain streaking across the clear sunroof. A constant swirl of water and light.
“The police said his car was totaled. His yellow Mazda. Jesse loved that car.”
“Did they say how it happened?”
Jackie flipped on the wipers to clear the windshield. Turned them off again. Nothing to see.
“He was speeding. He skidded in front of a tanker truck.”
“No way. He would never let anything cloud his driving. He lived for it.”
Jackie wiped the steam off the side window. Stared out at the driving rain.
“Brakes and tires,” Ramona said.
“My mechanic always says, brakes and tires. First thing you need to maintain on a car.”
Jackie flipped on the defogger.
“Let me come for you.”
“I’m good. Watching the rain…the rain that took my son.”
She continued. “He was supposed to be home tonight. I told him home by eleven. School night… He never listened to me.”
“He bought the car with the money we were saving for college. Never told me what he was doing.”
“Jackie, stay there. I’m coming for you. Wait for me.” Ramona hung up.
Jackie raised her seat again, stared out the windshield at a blurry, wavery scene. She felt oddly relieved. Almost cleansed.
On her phone Jackie called up her photo app. She found the one of Jesse posing in front of his Mazda.
“Jesse,” she said aloud, “you know, it’s just as well this happened. I couldn’t control you anymore.”
She shifted into drive, drove off into the rain.