Viewing posts from May, 2006
They were led, one at a time, from the smoky dark of the hold and up the narrow companionway. Each man was flanked by a crew-member who spoke in clipped and rushing tones. The ship was quiet, the sails slack.The men in the hold waited, unsure of what was happening. Dread spread among them. They did not speak the language of the crew, though they understood perfectly the gestures of the guns.
Storytelling is the territory of the trickster, the mythological emissary of joyful, irreverent spontaneity. The task of the trickster involves joining together things that seem distinct, or separating things falsely conjoined. The trickster articulates and redraws meaningful connections; in so doing he becomes master of all the arts. In his book The Boys, or, Waiting for the Electrician's Daughter, (already, even in the title, we glimpse the creative connections within its pages) - John Terpstra embodies the role of the trickster with great and sensitive skill. In this gentle and yet unvarnished chronicle, Terpstra articulates and reworks the joints between things. He shows us, by way of gathered vignettes and reflections, by means of his elegant, poetic prose, the fragile balance between suffering and hope, between love and fear, between confusion and illumination, in the lives of three boys living with muscular dystrophy. We expect, in such a chronicle, to read about how hard the lives of these boys must have been. We expect of the storyteller a tone of sympathy, or spiritual rumination. Terpstra offers us neither. Craftsman that he is - woodworker, furniture maker, carpenter, poet - he reworks the joints, offering us wonder in place of horror, dignity in place of desolation. He shows us clarity and beauty where we expect to find bewilderment and pain. The brief lives of these boys - Neil, Paul, and Eric, the brothers of Terpstra's wife - are presented to us as reflections of something larger, something we rarely see in this age dedicated to the illusion of personal empowerment: Terpstra shows us life's fragility, its great sacredness, the many ways in which the meaning of a life is defined not by its acts but by its relationships.