Tuesday, August 21, 2007

a little sojourn in newfoundland with lisa moore

by Lisa Moore

The brushed their teeth in filthy bathrooms with warped mirrors and naked light bulbs in mountain villages. The porcelain sinks had flares of rust and the drains went down into the earth and bubble up close by. She thought about the phrase, My husband. She said it to herself, This is my husband, Martin. She hated to say the word wife. It was not a word she could bring herself to say.

Husband, too, was questionable. It sounded stout, bifocaled, and involving of a cardigan.

There were things she would not do: she would not iron his shirts, she would not mow lawns or ever, ever, ever fake an orgasm or put her children in sailing or allow Martin to buy a motorcycle because she was afraid his head would get smashed in, though he wanted a motorcycle more than anything in the world, nor would she get fat or sleep on the couch or let the sun set on a fight or have an abortion or make meatloaf, although a recipe with orange rind and brown sugar had caught her eye.

She would not outright deny the motorcycle -- how could she -- but she would connive against it.

She would never freeze seven meals because she was going away and didn't want him to have to cook.

It frightenend her, what she had got into.

I can't lie. I really want to hang out with Lisa Moore. I have a crush on her in the grade six sense of the word, where all you want in the world is to be that person's best friend. I think we would get along well, but more than that I really want to hang out with the kind of person who can create the beauty that exists in her writing. Alligator is a triumphant novel about the
hidden connections between people and seems to suggest that the world is divided into those who follow their desires and those who do not. For the characters in Alligator, everyone is connected, from the brain-damaged side-show act who has put his head inside an alligator, to the girl in St. John's who is acting out for the love of two lost fathers, to the Russian mobster with the secret desire to go straight -- everyone is inter-related and inter-connected in intimate and important ways. As each life touches another, the text seems to ask us to consider our relationships with other people. When I first started studying English, a professor told me that the only way to make literature worth anything is to notice the hidden connections among things -- both within the world of the text and between the text and other cultural touchstones -- and Alligator is very much about the process of realizing one's place in society.

This is also a novel about roles and the parts we play. In the quote above, we see a woman struggling with the idea of being a woman with her own independent identity, and a wife as well. She fears being incapable of doing both those things successfully. In the end, feeling lost within the marriage, she divorces her husband, but when she comes to the end of her own life -- brought about through a heart condition and the stress of following her own dreams as a filmmaker in the years after her divorce -- she wants nothing more than to return to the connection she once shared with her ex-husband. For Madeline, this is the paradox that consumes her life, and in the end she dies because of an inability to find balance between the things she ought to do and the person she wants to be.

The most touching story in the novel though is the story of Colleen. Never having known her biological father, Colleen is raised by a step-father she loves unconditionally, but who dies when she is very young. Colleen begins an acting-out process of drinking, acting out, and promiscuity that places boundaries between herself and her mother than can no longer be crossed. From her mother's perspective, Beverly wants to love her daughter but fears that with all the punishing and court dates and disconnect she has forgotten how to mother. Colleen, for her part, cannot love, and she uses the love of others (like the sweet-tempered and kind-hearted Frank, who is also coping with the loss of a parent) for her own gain. When Colleen sleeps with Frank and then robs him, she changes his perception of the world and alters his life's trajectory; Frank ends up embroiled in the plot of a Russian mobster and nearly dies in a house fire. Colleen's inability to see the consequences of her actions is perhaps the greatest tragedy of the novel.

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