It seems there has long been a Cimmerian undercurrent flowing beneath our idolization of suburbia in which we wish to see ourselves reflected. I cannot pinpoint exactly why and when this desire to be vis-a-vis with the atramentous side of Eden arose, but I imagine it happened almost as soon as the brass ring had been grabbed, as dermal acids and greases tarnished, pitted our desire; as it dawned upon each generation, after the sunshine, the ownership, the space, the work; with the realization that white picket fences and greener grass take work, more work, harder work, anesthetizing amounts of work, and never mind the extra hours it takes to even afford that privilege.
And so the suburbs became the setting for melancholy, e.g. Updike’s “When Everyone Was Pregnant” or Salinger’s “Uncle Wiggly In Connecticut;” for graphic, supernatural bereavement; for out-and-out oddity, where color creeps slowly, reptilian, into a one time Promised Land that now stands as shorthand for a lack of vitality, of verve.
The tracts and cul-de-sacs and amorphous stomping groundsare what we have; for a certain, seemingly sizable, subset of said clime’s inhabitants, a dark mirror is what we want.
Carla Buckley’s “The Deepest Secret” provides just such a mirror; reflected in her turbid Columbus suburb is not, solely, the ravages of age and the mellowing of the spirit, nor the Puritanical mores which must be slaked, albeit allegorically, with blood, nor the novelty of what may lie behind drawn blinds and closed doors. No, all of these are present, but merely as wavelengths, parts of a whole. Buckley reflects that which is most universally praised and, thus, deserving of condemnation; our most broad spectrum and misunderstood emotion: love.
“The Deepest Secret” hinges upon Tyler Lattimore, a 14-year-old suffering from xeroderma pigmentosum, a genetic disorder which prevents his body from being able to repair damage caused by UV rays. Having an enemy as omnipotent as the sun dominates every aspect of Tyler’s life, and his family’s in turn.
This is a boy for whom a slight cracking of the door at the wrong time of day, a slight bulging and catching of the curtains, an errant reflection, one supposes, off a compact mirror, is equivalent to being rotated on the spit; his skin blisters and fries, potentially malignant carcinomas and melanomas bloom like anemones from the charred discharge, and corneal ulcerations threaten to take his sight; all of this happening at literally the speed of light, too fast to prevent, to intercept, and impossible to absorb in his stead.
Unsurprisingly, Tyler’s condition – and the mitigating strategies developed and employed by his mother, Eve – saturate the Lattimore’s family life. His well-being and care constitutes most all of Eve’s ipseity, which in turn frays her bonds with her husband, David, and their eldest, daughter Melissa.
Eve is an outspoken and well known resident on the cul-de-sac, asking new neighbors to refrain from using halogen lightbulbs, to turn off their headlights as they approach the house, to agree to turning the streetlights off so Tyler can breathe fresh air while his nemesis briefly sleeps. Her deep, abiding love is what fuels her, what allows to rise each day, allows her to smile, to hope, to coagulate, to fight.
To kill a little girl.
After a rain-soaked hit and run, Eve takes a path one imagines most any mother in her situation could rationalize herself upon (or any father, for that matter). Buckley’s subversion of love reveals the emotion’s inherent avarice, its intoxicating, all-present and all-powerful nature; its ability to obfuscate in a blood haze and pounding drums, to weigh two lives on a scale, as Anubis, and reveal itself as, ultimately, our most atavistic – and intrinsic – expression of meritocracy.
That she is able to do so is a testament to the Lattimores and their neighbors. They are introduced to us in the present tense, made intimate almost immediately in their warm flesh and then pressed, suffocatingly close, and there is little true exposition adding layers of dusty muscle.
The Lattimores fit nicely into their pre-conceived molds but with enough media flowing from the sides, enough imperfections and air pockets and flaws making them feel, if not real, than at least realistic.
Eve’s doggedness may indeed be dogma; David is dreadfully weary, but not disloyal; Tyler shows an independence and flair for machination that makes him hardly ever seem the victim; Melissa is confined to her role.
Even the neighbors are sharply drawn, cut from a classic suburbs-not-as-they-appear cloth, but expertly, surgically. Most intriguing is Holly, who drifts, wraithlike, from scene to scene, a postnatal phantom born upon teenage whims and shafts of UV-free porch and moon light. Her supremely brief dalliance with improper sexuality touches upon suburbia’s long history of Hester Prynne-style persecution, as does anotherdenizen’s love for domination; a dentist with a mysterious basement cage and a pair no stranger than cable reality TV subjects (which is, granted, still pretty strange) hit the oddity chords; the terror is to be found in the idea of slipping one’s self into any of these character’s forms.
Buckley renders all of these beings with a clipped, dissociative grace; through much of the novel she steps, haltingly, coldly, crepuscular as if the sentences were on Klonopin, only to reveal beautiful, deadly little brown recluses; a woman who “wears her makeup like armor,” say, or a quarter moon that appears “precisely cut and glowing, looking like a decal someone had flung up there that had stuck.”
That what should be, by all rights, a guilty pleasure, a soak in sudsy mawkishness is instead gravid with exploration, albeit at the very bleeding edge of the extreme ends, of our most important emotion. One would think it would be impossible to see ourselves here, but when looking at loved ones in a mirror, is it not impossible – barring multi-mirror trickery or vampirism – to see one’s self?
B. David Zarley, For The Sun News
Cokie Roberts will be at Clock Tower Books on 105 Screven St., Georgetown on Feb. 20 from 5-7 p.m. to sign copies of her latest children’s book, “Founding Mothers.” For more information, check out Clock Tower Books Georgetown’s Facebook page or call 546-8212.
Local authors convene
The Beach Author Network is meeting Feb. 25 at 5:15 p.m. at Chapin Memorial Library. Independently and traditionally published local authors convene to discuss marketing, promotion, community events. Visit www.beachauthornetwork.blogspot.com or call 215-4676 for information.
Events at Conway Library
The Conway Library is hosting two events on Feb. 17 from 6:30-7:30 p.m.: Elections for the Friends of the Conway Library board and guest speaker, author Larkin Spivey.
Nominations for board positions are:
• President: Jennifer Cormack
• Vice President: Graham Cormack and Lanny Rose
• Treasurer: Pam Clifton
• Secretary: Nancy Carle
Larkin Spivey is an author and retired Marine. He now writes and speaks full time on the theme of how God has blessed America and how individuals have been blessed by their faith in God during wartime. He is the author of “Stories of Faith and Courage from the Korean War.” As a decorated veteran, Spivey has experienced combat himself. With his own stories and the testimonies of other veterans, he seeks to enlighten both believers and skeptics with messages of hope, perseverance, faith and providence during history’s most treacherous times.
The library is located at 801 Main St., Conway. Call 915-7323.
If you have book- or author-related news, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Items and reviews run on a space-available basis.