Adventures in the Restless Universe
by Dawn Raffel
Jerome says- a word that means everything and nothing, a holder of
space, Elaina thinks, a consonant receptacle. ‘Who said I was
by Melissa Lee-Houghton
insight on the book sleeve explains that Dawn Raffel’s father would
read to her nightly from Max Born’s The Restless Universe but that
she didn’t understand it, that being "her first recognition that
love so often comes with imperfect understanding." Reading Further
Adventures in the Restless Universe is very often like
flicking through photographs, some you recognize and remember, some
you don’t. However, there is a connection running through them,
though they’re not necessarily chronological. Yes, it sounds
complex. But once you get into the groove, you discover prose that is
evocative though often minimal, and expansive though often cut short.
restless is exactly what to expect from this collection.
of the things that becomes apparent early on, is that Dawn Raffel
does not describe her characters by age, appearance etc. so the
reader is left to do a lot of the work. I remember reading something
Graham Greene wrote about characters: that writers should not go into
great depths about their characters and a good piece of fiction does
not rely on that, but can construct the environment within which
readers can let their own imaginations flourish. The opening story in
the book, Near Taurus is a tiny flash piece, and although
hardly anything is explained or eluded directly, there is a sense of
something else, a huge open emotional rawness, a journey that has
been arrived at.
Purchase is gorgeous. So much poetry, such a lightness. The story
about a mother and son’s relationship, rests uncomfortably on the
line, "She smells Jerome’s skin as she lies down beside him,
divided, awake, and wonders, will she miss him?" You can’t always
be certain of the narrative or which direction it is heading. Yet, it
strikes up an awkward relationship between reader and text, which the
imagination balances out.
the stories are written in staccato phrases, blasts of insight and
witty lines that burst out of nowhere and are delightfully
off-kilter. The dialogue is often straight. It’s snappy and curt.
Which sometimes can have a numbing, distancing effect. Sibling
reminded me of a Solzhenitsyn prose poem. A snapshot or memory
recalled after being buried.
Love, a grandfather recalls an early memory of a horse, once
sold to a travelling show. It’s a more conventional piece, it’s
slower, not as disjointed, but still has a curious ending and is
Myth of Drowning is written entirely in dialogue between a couple
in bed, one of whom is trying to sleep. The conversation is hazy,
funny and endearing; short, sharp phrases keep the story flowing.
sadness hits hard in Steam, a story of a woman, (or what I
assumed to be a woman) whose mother has passed away. Following an
accident at her workplace while she is away, she confesses "I
wished just a little that I had been there." It’s sobering
and perfectly articulated. The first three lines set up the scene so
deftly, they leave you wanting more. It’s a clever tale, with a
superb ending, just leaning against melancholy, touching sleeves.
has a way of catching you off-guard, it’s often necessary to read
closely and tentatively, to let it all sink in.
runs with the metaphor of "the book of the night." "Their
covers are tattered, shabby. The spine is worse for wear." It
attempts something unusual, something unconventional. Raffel pushes
to the limits, and the end results are risky. This particular piece
felt as though it was struggling under the weight of the metaphor,
almost rescued by the lines "He kindles the lamp. Paragraphs spill
out unvoiced: Languid suspicions; an episode from childhood…"
There is so much of a sense of freedom in Raffel’s prose. It is
light and sparse, juxtaposed with distinct, poetic lines that add
vibrancy and mystery.
story Seven Spells is a real triumph. It charts the fainting
spells one woman has had over the course of her school years, through
to her pregnancy and motherhood. The story is written in sections and
progresses chronologically. There’s a real empathy and concern
invested in the reading of the piece, which is made doubly
heartwarming by the outcome.
Raffel doesn’t deal with complex narratives and complex characters,
she takes snapshots of the person and magnifies them. The infinite,
the sublime, in the barest detail.
Read a story from this
collection on Oprah.com