by Peter Grandbois
If Alyssa Knickerbocker’s Your Rightful Home is any indication, publisher FlatmanCrooked’s “New Novella” series walks softly but carries a big stick. It would be simplistic to call Your Rightful Home a loss of innocence story, though it is. More specifically, it’s a moving and elegant exploration of the ways in which we slowly lose control, despite our best efforts. “You are Snow White,” the narrator says of herself on the opening page. An apt analogy for a book about an act that will determine a life—an act, like the eating of a poison apple, that will send the narrator into a long sleep from which it may not be possible to awaken. The narrator follows with, “You are Lydia, sometimes, and she is you.” The two characters are interchangeable. The horrific events that will come to pass could easily happen the other way around—could happen, in fact, to the reader, which brings us to the second person point of view. Misused, the second person can feel forced, accusatory, but when it’s essential to the story, as it is here, it creates an almost incantatory rhythm that makes of the narrator, and the reader too, a suburban everywoman: “Lydia . . . lives in a one-story ranch house exactly like yours.” The voice is immediate and disturbingly intimate.
The plot hinges on an accusation that the narrator’s friend, Lydia, stole the narrator’s bracelet and the narrator’s subsequent attempt to hide the evidence that would exonerate her friend by throwing the bracelet into a creek: “You squint, trying to see, while the water soaks into the too-long yellow dress you are still wearing, seeping up towards your knees, your thighs, growing heavier . . . ” The elegant precision with which Knickerbocker builds her concrete and simple imagery belies the metaphorical weight each image carries to pull the narrator under until all she can do to fight for breath is tell the story of Lydia’s disappearance: “But if their stories are the kindling, then yours is the wood—the split log, dry and splintered, paper-white and yearning to burst into flame.” That yearning to burn up, to undo what has been done, what cannot be undone provides the conflict, the pulsing nerve at the center of this tight, powerful novella. What actions are possible in the face of regret? Only the desire to return to ash, the hope to start again.
The child’s naming game that opens the novella also closes it: “Ruby, you say. Princess Ruby.” It is a game of creation, an imaginary game, the only place a child can control her world. At the end, the adult narrator names her own daughter Ruby—a futile attempt at rebirth. The lesson of adulthood, and of Knickerbocker’s novella, is that sometimes all that’s left from the desire to burn away regret is smoke and ashes: “[Your mother] brings an old soup pot from the kitchen . . . and sits next to you in the grey twilight and then in the pitch dark, rubbing your back and blowing her ashy menthol smoke through the screen.”
Rain Taxi Online Edition, Summer 2010 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2010