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The Candy Darlings by Christine Walde

Epigraphs:

“There is no such thing as just a story.” -Robert Fulford

“Narration is as much a part of human nature as breath and the circulation
of the blood.”     -A.S. Byatt

EUGOLORP       I like word puzzles! Is this a remnant from my adolescence or just something that has always been a part of me and probably always will be? In any case, I thought it was an appealing opening strategy.  It is prologue by the way in case you aren’t into word play (and that’s okay). The prologue is titled “The Real Story” and it starts like this:

“Once upon a time (oops! should we be suspicious already?), I saw the world the way I thought I was supposed to: as a place where the normal reigned and the weak perished under the strong. But I was wrong. And this is the story about that story. One of the many tales that I must tell.
Megan would have been proud of me. For it was she who first made me seethe candy darlings differently. She turned the world into one of stories – candy-coated, candy-colored, sweet and raw and square and round – composing words I would consume and devour, take whole inside my mouth and suck down into nothing.
What I didn’t see was that there was something more behind them. More than what I had been told. More than what I had been made to understand. Because Megan made me believe that that was all they were. Stories. (check first epigraph)
In the end – whatever the truth is – this I know: whatever Megan told me, I believed it because I wanted to. Not because she made me. Megan was only doing what she had to. I was the one who didn’t want to see what other truth there was.  What the real story could be.”

TRAP ENO  THE GNINNIGEB  The back story is that the narrator’s mother died in April after a long illness. Her daughter used to watch the glucose drip through the apparatus beside her mother’s bed and she imagined the solution “as a kind of liquid candy”. She thought of the liquid as an “invisible fire” burning inside her mother. Images of the glucose line dangling along the floor the day her mother dies…” sugar water dripping slow as tears” …left her believing that “glucose had been the disease, the sugar water the true cause of my mother’s death. She had died full of liquid candy.”

She promised herself never to eat candy again.

Father and daughter move to a smaller town and make the attempt to recover and find a new way of being. They had a house in a quiet subdivision. They both wanted to move. They were seeking normalcy after an irreparable loss for both of them. They were in need of a house “with no trace” of wife or mother.

Our narrator’s hope was that she “could transform into anyone” she wanted to be. “Her plan was simple. Be popular. Be cool. Fit in. No matter what happened: be normal.”

Things started out well enough. She met Tracey Reid and Blake Starfield whom she was warned to stay away from because “he’s weird”. Blake had a lazy eye and sat behind our narrator.

She met three girls who represented the epitome of normal and she knew she wanted to “be a part of them”. They were beautiful and their names were Meredith, Angela and Laura. She met them after school and went to Meredith’s house where the girls talked about boys and admired each other’s clothes and called Tracey a loser and thought about doing something “to her”. Our narrator had “actually thought Tracey had been okay but she wasn’t about to reveal that to  the others.They decide to send a letter to Tracey from Blake and then they decided that our narrator would be the one to deliver it.

“After all, it was your idea,” Angela said. In reply to Meredith’s “That’s OK with you isn’t it? ” Our narrator, neatly trapped between the three of them, swallowed nervously and replied “Sure…I can do that.”

For a week she hung out with the three girls and although she “should have been proud of what [she’d] done…[she] wasn’t”. She felt awful. BUT….she was liked, she was part of a group, she was almost normal and almost happy.

And then she met Megan Chalmers.

When Megan was introduced to the class and Mr. King asked her to tell the students something about her background,  “She flashed the class a fuck-you grin and took her seat.” Because she kept staring at Megan, Mr. King appointed out narrator to show Megan around the school. Megan is sucking on a lollipop and offers our narrator some. The latter refuses of course. They get into a conversation (mostly one-sided) about the school and, in particular, about Meredith, Angela and Laura whom Megan has christened MAL and whom she has identified as controllers of the social dynamic of the whole, a control that arises from their privileged standing at the school and in the community.

Megan tells our narrator that she has recognized her as different from these clones that dictate social policy to the whole school. She examines our narrator’s palm and identifies her recent loss and tells her she is lying about who she is. Megan says they are destined to be friends. Our narrator tells Megan she doesn’t believe in fate or destiny. Megan says “Sure you don’t. And monkeys fly out of my ass.” Megan thanks her for the tour and goes her own way.

It only gets better after this. The friendship itself is fascinating and the adventures the two girls have are packed full of life lessons that all girls the same age probably have but not everyone learns as much from their experiences as these two do. My favourite experience is the one the girls have when they volunteer at St. Teresa’s Hospital where their responsibility is to take the candy and magazine cart around to all the rooms and see who wants to buy some. It is there they meet Edie who has potted plants all over her room and all kinds of candy including scotch mints, butterscotch melt-aways, Russell Stover chocolates, Jelly Belly jelly beans and raisin Glossettes, M & M’s,Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups etc. etc. Edie takes many pills and she says the bottles say take with food and she has determined that candy is the best for that purpose.

A good balance between entertainment and thoughtful insight. I would recommend it for young women capable of extracting, or craving, life lessons from their reading.

 

 

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