Stories that turn you inside out

One should be careful what to wish for this week.  Only infrequently do I fondly remember Midwestern weather, but those snowed-in days were wonderful (as long as the power stayed on).   A pile-up of the white stuff invites cocooning and simmering vats of soup on the stove.  Best of all, one is absolved from attempting to go anywhere.

I’m an indoor person.   Structure and defined spaces provide security, strength.  Even the most exhilarating outdoor experience is complemented by the joy of returning to my own personal environment/refuge. 

You may think otherwise, and two authors of recent experience could document your viewpoint convincingly.    I’m just finishing first-novelist Amy Sackville’s imaginative The Still Point, which I’d already have completed if I didn’t keep stalling; I won’t hasten to read those last few pages.  It’s not that I dread knowing the outcome; I’ve simply enjoyed containment in the special realm of reality that Sackville constructed.

The Still Point shifts between two quests:  turn-of-the-century Arctic explorer Edward Mackley’s venture to reach the “still point” at the top of the world, and his great-great niece Julia’s struggle for identity as she archives Edward’s expeditionary artifacts.  Julia and husband Simon inhabit the memorabilia-strewn family mansion, a venue which threatens rather than enhances their odds for happiness as long as Julia’s Sleeping Beauty-esque preoccupation with Edward’s century-old romance and mission persists.  Sackville’s descriptions of the forbidding winterland verge on the poetic, and she admirably sustains that suspended-between-worlds sensation that I’m now reluctant to abandon.

The second venturesome tale is a Mark Twain classic, the January selection for one of my discussion groups.  Roughing It, published in 1872, also straddles two dimensions: Twain’s actual escapades and his inventive wit (tall tale alert).   The author’s original few months exploring the American West expanded into a six-year odyssey, and readers are apt to perceive that Twain’s confidence and verbal acuity burgeoned right along with it.  Whereas the fictional Julia confronts a destructive interior environment, Twain derives strength from the ever-changing eccentricities of his rugged destination.

What else would we expect from a habitual risk-taker and early adopter who made and lost fortunes, who allegedly was the first to typewrite a manuscript submitted to a publisher, and who copyrighted himself to prevent unauthorized persons from using his persona?  And, with regard to the criticism sometimes directed toward Twain’s extravagantly designed house: I guess he just wasn’t an indoor kind of guy.

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