(photo: M. Pedelmas, Mirepoix)
Yes, the title refers to the photo, quite obviously. When I took a snapshot of it, I couldn’t help wondering what the elephant thought about it all. As in: did he sometimes have memories of other times and places sifting through his brain while doing the balancing act? Did he sometimes ask himself: how the hell did I get myself into this? You know, existential type questions. I was less intrigued by the ongoing thought processes of the guy on the elephant’s head. I figure he’s the instigator, so he’s probably concentrating on pulling it off – at least, he’d better be. At that point, the onlooker may wonder about the why of it all but, clearly, it would be unwise for the principals to be doing the same.
But this morning, I’m mostly thinking about a review I read in The New York Times yesterday of Alice Munro’s latest collection of stories, Too Much Happiness. Reviews are strange animals because you’re reading excerpts chosen by and filtered through the reviewer’s sensibility. As I haven’t read the book, I was left with something of a conundrum after reading a seven-line paragraph on a story called “Wenlock Edge”. On the basis of the paragraph, I learn the narrator, a young college woman, feels “violated” (the reviewer’s word) after accepting a man’s request to undress herself and read to him in the nude. Something is clearly missing for the word ‘violation’ to make sense to me in this context – the something being coercion under threat of physical harm. If the young woman accepted, she may question herself later about her own motives in doing so; she may wonder about the nature of her acquiescence or of the exchange that took place. She might also wonder why she feels something was ‘taken’ from her (the word used by Munro in the excerpt). None of which adds up to a violation, in my opinion, but rather to a moral tale, in the most multifaceted sense of the word. In other words, one that leads me to wondering what other spins could be done based on such a premise, if the young woman were to think in terms both of the give and the take that occurred in the exchange.
Which – thank you Alice Munro, thank you Leah Hager Cohen in NYT – leads me back to my own characters and their struggles with unresolved issues and delicate balancing acts. Works in progress, indeed. That’s the great thing about being alive to spin and re-spin the tales.