Valerie Miles On:
My Parents and My Children by Samanta Schweblin
Let’s face it, the matter of our every day lives is of strange stuff made. When viewed apprehensively, when the strings of family are stretched taut over the Nabokovian abyss to nestle a rocking cradle, or coddle an aging parent whose mind is failing, what’s normal can quickly turn downright bizarre. An everyday word, say tree, repeated several times in a row loses its meaning and confirms the inherent estrangement of language when its devoid of convention. Samanta Schweblin’s chiseled prose and snaking narrative lens focus attention on images that disturb the ordinary and displace meaning; Grandpa’s jogging suit string hangs like a noose from a tree of life that seems straight out of a Lynch movie. Grandma is naked too, playing sensually with the water hose, naked children disappear in the garden with the naked grandparents; a string has snapped, a hole in the safety net, authority steps in and the system is alerted but we find it speaks a language we don’t understand.
Not all houses are nests. Schweblin’s tensely wrought voice echoes in ironic apposition the well-ordered closets of this summerhouse. Senility mirrors the innocence of childhood, invoking the mystery of the cycle of life: as above, so below. They dance, run, play, enjoy. It’s life in the middle that collapses, that’s where the holes appear, where language fails. Truth is hidden in these pages, it runs deeper than the image on the surface, belies this skin of normalcy, hides in the empty space of a tidy closet. As we love, we also transfer our fears, our primal hysteria, the sense of being alienated from our own lives. Foreigners will take our women, we will go mad like our parents, our children will disappear. And yet they look at us through the garden window, naked, and laugh and laugh and laugh.