Which is not to say this is not an amazing book and I don’t want to read everything else this author has written. It is amazing. I do want to read everything this author has written. He reminds me of Peter S. Beagle and Charles DeLint and Peter Straub’s Shadowland. Now, that is quite the mix, isn’t it?
This is a story about a utopia, and dreaming, and the ability to discern the truth and memory and remembering and forgetting. The “warren people” of this story are Truthful Speakers, in that “They say what they mean, and they mean what they say,” and memories and stories and remembering are everything to them; the Truthful Speakers are contrasted against Dr. Boot’s List people, who forget everything and live from moment to moment.
Utopias, as I noted after reading Childhood’s End, are not the easiest things to write. But here is a Utopia that works for me. How is that? I re-saw M. Night Shamalayn (we’ve decided that his first name is Melvin) The Village. That movie sort of answers the question. There is a childlike and loving community of people who do things for one another and protect one another. “He hand-made me a cane with Ivy’s initials in it,” said one of the actresses, Bryce Howard, in the notes after the movie. “After that, it was easy to fall in love with him.” She was talking about her character, but in someways, Bryce and Ivy were the same person, although they both acknowledged they had separate lives. And William Hurt noted on utopias – they have a purpose.
Like the movie, the utopias in this story have a purpose, and therefore work. And like the movie, this book crossed over into my dreams and reality and memories and forgotten thoughts, so much so, that I only realized in my sleep that the title of Engine Summer was, on one level, a mispronunciation of Injun, or Indian Summer.
Because of the inherent dreaminess of this story and the rich and imaginative writing, and the anchoring of the theme in every nuance, this book has some similarities to The Drowned World. The themes of the stories – memory and forgetfulness – are woven into the very bones of this story, and it is wanders poetically, managing to work without any real discernable villains or plot or conflict. And there is another version of “Deep Time.”
An aside on Deep Time. On the radio, an archeologist guy was talking about dinosaurs – really, giant ground eagles, he said – and they were alive during the Triassic, which he referred to as “Deep Time.” Did archeologist guy take it from the book, or did Ballard take it from archeology?
Another circular conundrum. It seems to be the week.
Which led me to the conclusion of this story as another deconstruction story. I realized then, I didn’t have a real sense of what deconstruction was, so I looked it up on the internet. I was wronger and righter than I could have thought I was, in the same instance. “Deconstructionism” is an arcane philosophy created in the 1960s to evaluate literature, and “deconstruct it,” so I was wrong. It also holds the belief that every word can have an exact meaning, having dialogues the way the Truthful Speakers do, so I was also right. Which again rings with the exact nature of this very trippy, very lovely, and very sad book. Worse, I think the author did this on purpose: he teaches literature and philosophy.
This is what I have learned: I can’t write a story like this. Realizing that plunged me into a very deep depression, that I have been fighting the last day, like a kayaker on rough waters. Maybe I will write a story like this in a few decades, but I don’t have it in me, now. And I think I will have to go back and read my own stories to find my own voice again, because this author’s tone has invaded me, and I can’t shake it, but I’m not part of it either. Which is what happened to his damn character. How did he do that?
Weird. A “Neverending Story” experience. I hope I have enough sandwiches.