1) from William Wordsworth, The Prelude
Fair seed-time had my soul, and I grew up
Fostered alike by beauty and by fear.
2) from Emily Dickinson, “770”
I lived on dread – [she wrote]
To those who know
The stimulus there is
In danger – other impetus
Is numb – and vitalless –
(from pages 5 and 6 of the novel)
“Of course he’d considered going Outside thousands of times – as he’d considered executing a standing double backflip or walking around with his feet magnetized to the ceiling or chainsawing a trapdoor in the floor – but had never dared. Even when he lobbed their garbage bags as to the curb as he could manage from the front foyer, or watched shirtless neighbourhood boys plow their BMXs through the meaty summer heat, he’d never been sufficiently tempted. Mailmen over the years had asked why he and his mother were always home, and Will often replied, “Why are you a mailman?” with one raised eyebrow, which usually shut them up.
The real reason was that he was her protector. Her guardian. From herself. From it: the Black Lagoon. It wasn’t like he was trapped. The doors were not locked. She made no rules, issued no commandments, declared no penalties, and exacted no punishments. Staying Inside was something he’s invented, intuited, for her sake, to keep her from falling so deep she’d tremble and explode and weep all her tears and go dry and insubstantial as the dandelion fluff that occasionally coasted Inside like tiny satellites. He’d always known that if fear took her for good, he’d be left treading water forever in the ocean of life with nothing to buoy him.”
Will’s mother, Diane, hadn’t always needed protection. She’d grown up in Thunder Bay and had a twin brother, Charlie. She’d been to New York with Arthur. She’d had a promising career as a film maker and a retrospective of her career was being planned. So how did she become agoraphobic? How did it happen: this intense all-consuming fear of the outside world? And how did it effect her son?
“How easy it is for a life to become tiny. How cleanly the world falls away.”
I wasn’t sure I wanted to know the details but I continued to read anyway because I needed to understand. And Will is an irresistible narrator.
Will and his mother lived initially in Toronto. Arthur deposited generous support cheques in her account every month so that was not a problem. She had had a plan: it was about finding her balance and maybe making another film. She still owned the house in Thunder Bay that she and Charlie had bought. Charlie worked in the grain elevators and was saving money to go to university but he died in an accident at work when he was 24. Diane was the only surviving member of her family and she couldn’t bear to sell the house.
In Toronto when Will was a toddler there had been an incident on a subway platform. She “still couldn’t summon the incident in her mind without panic spreading in her like laughter in a crowd. She knew she’d brushed against true madness that day because it was huge and blunt and screaming.”
“She’s blamed the city, its wilderness of signs and traffic and sounds, its flip book of faces and lightening storm of a million brains. So she packed up their apartment and moved Will north to Thunder Bay” where she hadn’t returned since Charlie died. She ought a car and drove the fourteen hours to Thunder Bay listening to the CBC for as long as the signal held ad then singing along to old tapes. She was surprisingly tranquil behind the wheel. She was a hive of activity when they reopened the house.
“The work did her good, and this was a period of reprieve.”
Driving gave her a sense of freedom but then crossing a highway in the Thunder Bay area she confused the brake and the accelerator. So she began to avoid the highway but new rules emerged: “No roads over a certain speed limit. No night driving. Then no left-hand turns. She hugged the shore of the right lane, never risking her car in the path of an onrushing vehicle …each night her mind burbled with the close calls of the day, the inadequate traffic bylaws, the numbers and speeds and the physics of it all. And after weeks of this she perceived driving for what it truly was: an impossibly complicated and lethal activity. ”
She gave up driving, sold the car and learning that the local public transportation system would not fill the gap, she and Will began to take taxis. Soon she could no longer tolerate the taxis and their drivers and so that was when “ordering from home began in earnest.” She became a master at getting things delivered: she knew exactly when to use the words “severe condition” when placing an order.
Then began another stage of withdrawal – pulling completely into the inside. The avoidance of risk was a major consideration and the front yard and the back yard became too full of danger and so they stayed inside. “It was almost relieving, this simplification, and there followed some relatively peaceful, untroubled years.”
So there you have much of the explanation of how the situation developed. But you need to read about their actual lives and see what it was like for them and possibly understand how it could have worked. Because it did work although you might think it couldn’t possibly.
And you must meet Will.
And you will want to know whether Will ever goes Outside and, if he does, how does that go?
And if you are like this reader, you will also find the information contained about the elevators at Thunder Bay very interesting.
I like Michael Christie’s style and his imagery. Here’s a favourite passage of mine:
“Since he’d been riding trains, the whispering had worsened, and his words were further jumbling in his head, as though someone had taken a sledgehammer to the card catalogues in the library of his mind.”