Creating simplicity often makes the heart leap; order has been restored, the crooked made straight. But order is understanding that things cannot be made simple, that complexity reigns and must be accepted.
Marina Warner's quote above opens chapter 38 of Some Kind of Fairy Tale
. Though I'm not a big fan of introductory chapter quotes, this one (and all the others, for that matter) fits. Joyce's novel is all about human attempts to cram the mysterious whole into our tiny, finite frameworks of understanding. We often crave order, and are willing to inflict pain on others (electroshock therapies, death penalties, wars against "irrational" and expendable others, witch hunts) to secure our own more "civilized" form of existence. But let's be honest, despite our best efforts, we can't escape mystery, complexity. We can't always explain things like the spontaneous remission of Richie's cancer. Both the doctor and Richie are left without a rational explanation:
"Do you believe in God?"
"Nope," Richie said flatly. "And I ain't about to start."
"Me neither," said the consultant. "Thing is, if you don't believe in miracles, you're left only with the beautiful and unsolvable mystery."
"I'll take that," Richie said, "if it means the tumor might have gone."
Order obscuring beauty. I'm intrigued by the complex heretical thoughts such a seemingly simple statement launches in my head. Eastern Orthodox Christians called the sacraments "divine mysteries". So why did theologians and church leaders want to cram these beautiful and mysterious "outward and visible signs of an inward and spiritual grace" into their own narrowing frameworks through terms like transubstantiation and consubstantiation? Power, order, Christian (Protestant, Catholic, other) civilization. The checkered past of trying to defend these teachings proves establishing order demands great humility. Let's think long and hard before we carve into stone our definitions of heaven, hell, right, wrong, seen and unseen worlds, shall we? Otherwise, our friends and neighbors who believe differently are screwed, made expendable (infidel, untouchable, illegal) by our definition-making. Joyce reminds us of the perils of order-making by having Tara and Mrs. Larwood become psychoanalytical fodder for their refusal to stop telling fairy tales. Point taken! I like a healthy dose of mysterious beauty with my civilization, too.
My only real complaint about Some Kind of Fairy Tale
? What's up with the Stranger in a Strange (Out)Land-ish sexual mores of fairyland? Maybe Joyce was trying to show that fights to the almost-death and copious copulation aren't reserved for "natural" settings like the Beta House. The more likely explanation is that the hypersexuality of the fairy folk serves to give more plausibility to the psychoanalytical explanations given for Tara's behavior. Joyce doesn't want readers to be 100 percent sure of Fairyland's reality. Okay, I get it. That doesn't mean I have to like the handling of fairy relationships, however.
Joyce has some serious competition for the 2012 World Fantasy Award. Let's see how he does in a few weeks. Regardless of the outcome, this one's good.