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In an elegant and penetrating first short-story collection, Limbo, and Other Places I Have Lived, Lily Tuck's characters travel to unknown, exotic places and, while there, find themselves deeply immersed in observation — of the natives, the local customs, the foreign landscape — in an effort to discern some elemental truth about who they themselves are. Instead, these women meet with disorientation, confusion; they are disappointed by the people closest to them — lovers, husbands, family members. Finally, they ...
In an elegant and penetrating first short-story collection, Limbo, and Other Places I Have Lived, Lily Tuck's characters travel to unknown, exotic places and, while there, find themselves deeply immersed in observation — of the natives, the local customs, the foreign landscape — in an effort to discern some elemental truth about who they themselves are. Instead, these women meet with disorientation, confusion; they are disappointed by the people closest to them — lovers, husbands, family members. Finally, they arrive at the sometimes heartbreaking but ultimately optimistic realization that the answers they seek lie not in other people or places but within themselves.
Limbo, and Other Places I Have Lived is a brilliant collection from a writer of exceptional poise and insight.
|L'Esprit de L'Escalier||15|
|The View from Madama Butterfly's House||99|
|Next of Kin||127|
We arrive at La Mayonette very late at night. My husband, Charles, and I had calculated eight hours for the drive but it took much longer since we did not take into account the winding part on the map between Geneva and Lyons -- that part alone took five hours. Also, not realizing how far we still had to go, we had stopped along the way to have a picnic lunch and, lastly, just after it had got dark, the two bicycles that were attached, upside down, to the roof rack of the car worked themselves loose and we had to stop once more to reattach them. "If the bicycles fall off, someone could get hurt. Seriously hurt," I kept saying to Charles, as I tried to hold the flashlight steady and as he tried to tighten the bungee cords that held the bicycles down, and this, too, took up more time. Now, and for once uncomplaining, our two boys are huddled against each other in the back of the car asleep as we drive up to Francine's house to get the key to La Mayonette. We wake her up but she does not seem to mind. She was afraid, she tells us, that we had had an accident; she is relieved to see us. Her long hair is tied into a single old-fashioned braid and hangs down her back, and the bright-green Mexican dress she is wearing as a nightgown is wrinkled from her sleep. She does not look any different since I last saw her, and we embrace warmly. I introduce her to Charles whom she has never met. She gets us the key, a long iron key, like a key to a city, and tells us how to find the house. We kiss again and say à demain.
La Mayonette is painted a rough yellow -- the same yellow van Gogh used when he painted the houses there-- and although there are several other buildings, mostly farm buildings, next to them, it looks garish and out of place. In the morning before I am properly awake, I can hear roosters crowing and a tractor starting up and setting off down the road. When I look around at the unfamiliar room -- last night, not bothering to unpack, barely turning on a light, we all went straight to bed -- I see an ordinary room sparsely furnished with a bedside table, two straight-backed chairs, and an armoire; only the wallpaper seems inappropriate. More than inappropriate: the wallpaper disturbs me. The design on it is a profile of a woman with red hair and dark sharp features, repeated a dizzying amount of times all around us. To make matters worse, the wallpaper was hung by an amateur. The faces do not match at the seams and are distorted -- where there should be a nose, there is a chin, where there should be a mouth, hair.
In the next room, I can hear our two boys talking; their words are as distinct as if no wall separated us. "Shit," the younger boy says, "the bastard flew around me all night. I never got to sleep." He makes a buzzing sound and the older boy laughs. Something crashes to the floor and they both laugh. Already smiling, Charles opens his eyes and reaches an arm toward me. "We are going to have a good summer," he promises.
"In college, I read a story about a woman who goes crazy looking at the wallpaper in her bedroom," I answer.
La Mayonette is the name of the house we have rented in the Var district of France for the month of July. The house belongs to Francine's family and it was my idea to rent it, because of Francine, who was my classmate and friend a long time ago when I was a student in France, and because of the countryside. The countryside is hot and dusty and the azure sea and the crowded Riviera beaches, which are a few kilometers away and only a twenty-minute drive from the house, seem very remote from La Mayonette. Here the land is given over to vineyards and orchards and is contained by a ragged ring of scrub mountains on which grow patches of wild rosemary and thyme.
We are soon settled in La Mayonette and the days establish themselves into an easy routine. The two boys bicycle and run around as if they had always lived here and as if it does not matter that they are in France. The bread man delivers a loaf of flat round country bread every morning; and Jacqueline, who lives in one of the buildings clustered around La Mayonette, comes twice a week to clean and do the wash. She is silent and efficient and I am relieved that I do not have to speak to her and tell her what to do. Even so, I warn Charles to hide his money, his valuables; I do likewise. We learn our way around Pierrefeu, the little village perched on a hill six kilometers away. From there, we tour the caves to taste the wine grown in the region and end up buying two large plastic bonbonnes of pink and red wine -- more than enough for a month, Charles says. We also buy a quantity of food: olive oil, tomatoes, garlic, fish, fruit -- mainly the juicy yellow peaches that are in season.
On the Fourth of July, the younger boy says that he wants to bake a cake, but, inexplicably, he makes mashed potatoes instead. The kitchen is the largest room in the house and the one we use the most. A long oak table stands in the middle, and already, the tabletop is crowded with pitchers of wild flowers and china bowls of peaches. We have brought in two armchairs from the living room, and Francine is sitting in one of them and her two daughters, who are a little younger than our two boys, are...Limbo, and Other Places I Have Lived. Copyright © by Lily Tuck. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Posted October 9, 2014
Posted October 9, 2014