17 thoughts on “The Yellow Wood – Melanie Tem

  1. PROLOGUE

    “…forking and forking into ever-smaller vessels the ye l low wood that all serve the same aortal core, the same four chambers, the same pulse.”

    “…the intersection toward this long, low yellow house where she grew up and that she left behind.”

    SIC

    The forking intersection eventually to tentatively circle or flirt with today’s earlier Steve-and-Melanie asymptote here? Alexandra the daughter – feisty, middle-aged, now with her own family back home – talks to us about meeting, as she travels, her father Alexander after many years of estrangement. And he talks to us, too, alternately intersecting what she says, or vice versa, about her coming towards him, her returning reluctantly perhaps (but why if so?), at his beck and call — through the yellow wood that they seem to share with voles. With their different words for yellow. He is about to die, I gather. Hence the call to this particular daughter, seemingly his most important child among her siblings.

  2. Chapter 1

    “I got this reverence for life directly and consciously from my father. I have put my own spin on it and passed it on, set it loose in the world. Just as my father intended. But I’ve never really believed he himself revered life or anything else. He just thought I should.”

    Backstory from Alexandra’s age 8, her mother left home, and Alexandra back today with her father 81. He was once tempted by a suicide cliff as in Midsommar, I sense. The relationship is complex. Cyrillic. What of their Kove name? The other siblings sketched in. She is now married to an African with her own kids. I can’t tell you everything I just learnt. Needs piecing together. A complex relationship with her father, including him being a wizard, both an inspirer and something inimical? And she is now writing this text we are reading under the effect of his renewed presence in her life. The old nursery rhymes she used to chant as a child once needed a rhyme for ‘jerk’. Or a near rhyme, at least. Then the image of bark peeled from a branch came up in the text. And we continue to hear HIS italicised thoughts. But is SHE writing them, I ask?
    And what of Penny Wyckoff?

  3. Chapter 2

    “Personal connection is not my forte. I have never known how to talk to children, teenagers, women, Southerners, New Englanders, foreigners, the handicapped, the elderly.”

    The father, Alexander, is elderly himself now!? Is it, indeed, him speaking at all? Ostensibly so. His mixed feelings of dealing with his insular ‘family’, but nothing ‘foreign’, nothing outside ‘family’? Yet, Alexandra has been investigating the side of his family In Slovakia, I infer. Much to his chagrin? This is brilliantly written stuff, incidentally, as if written ‘in the air’ between Alexander and his daughter Alexandra, as the latter catches up with her siblings, but forgetting numerous names of younger generations stemming from these siblings. Or is that Alexander forgetting them? Being tantamount to elderly, myself, am I getting more mixed up than them!? I gather Alexandra has adopted her own kids? Her sister today is pregnant? And there is still mystery over the long missing mother (wife of Alexander)? This, of course, is proving to be captivating stuff, in the, for me, fruitful golden area that lies between clarity and confusion.

  4. Chapter 3

    “Reading aloud to my father is almost more than I can bear. Almost more than I’m willing to bear, because it makes me so vulnerable to something he set in motion before I can remember, long before I had any choice in the matter. Something that started bright and dark and tangled between us and then spread out and came loose and is now folding back over.”

    And variations upon that theme, and backstories of snake and yellow wood, and more, involving a sort of creative reading aloud and creative writing rivalry between Alex and Alex, father and daughter? I myself used to read aloud a lot to my daughter (and to my son and wife) – I feel at home with these dichotomies, assuming one can feel comfortable with difficulties, as if difficulties are necessary for comfort? Yesterday, I identified, with the help of this book, that the grey area between clarity and confusion is a golden one, an area especially attainable at my age, and I then used it in the heading of my website above. But how to account for the difficulties here between father and daughter as part of a golden area, difficulties forming a creative tension. I still suspect that what I am reading is a weird blend of their real thoughts ping-ponging between them AND one of them writing both sets of thoughts as a novel AND both of them collaborating on a novel. This Alexical Dadaughter.

  5. Chapter 4

    “Who knew my sister would turn out to be this complicated, contradictory, exasperating, fascinating woman? […] I used to tune out her chatter, but I’ve come to realize I miss important things that way, details and patterns nobody but Emily has noticed, clichés that have their roots in truth.”

    Unsurprisingly, I am finding this fiction of a book or this book of fiction more and more fascinating. I wonder who possibly may have already read it, as I haven’t – yet.

    “These people love barbecues. Personally, I’ve never understood the appeal.”

    Me, neither!
    Actually there is so much here. Like the joke about calling one’s eighth child — with siblings all with a name beginning E — Eight! No wonder Alexandra can’t keep up with the extended family.
    This book is its own sandbox of fiction as well as containing a real sandbox for its kids to play in, and no wonder our half-narrator is missing her own family with this enforced stay here, after so many years of estrangement from this her original family. Today, elderly Alexander, the other half-narrator, seems, not uncharacteristically, to have gone missing across the blurred borders between yellow wood and Will’s “not-woods” as opposed to not-garden, if not Tippett’s.
    Vis à vis misremembering the circumstances of her late mother’s (or not) harmonica, I wonder if Alexandra really remembers everything about her childhood or whether repressed memories link back to that near rhyme with ‘jerk’ I mentioned earlier?
    Some interesting interface with brother Will. I wonder if his garden relates to anything in Mr Ainsley by Melanie’s earlier husband that I read earlier today?

    “Gardening as a metaphor and concentrate for despair. Far from diminishing the importance and immediacy of an experience, writing gives me a way in.”

    I feel puckish today. The child’s didgeridoo playing, notwithstanding.

    “‘It was fiction, not autobiography.’ In a sense, everything a writer writes is autobiographical, of course, but Emily’s not likely to know that.”

  6. Chapter 5

    “In this way, getting through the day is made to mean both more and less than it literally does. Sometimes, contemplation of my legacy lengthens my stride and directs my gaze. Sometimes, distracted, I stumble.”

    Powerful stuff, the ping-ponging between father and daughter, blurred memories, mutual musings, including a clay moulding of interracial faces that he shows her, something that felt to me almost erotic, when she was a child. This is like watching a new classic Ingmar Bergman film through a jamming with words, almost alexical like Gerard Manley Hopkins (who is actually mentioned) — as we follow the family members all looking for Alexander (who we learn is now 82 not 81) in what Alexandra knows as his hideout. Vaughn who is gay with his drum. Galen who does not like Alexandra, she maintains. Teeming fish. Many images that teem past. Alexandra remembering children she has adopted since being here when younger in the yellow wood. Many counterintuitive crossovers of emotion. And potentially finding more Koves abroad, much to the chagrin of Alexander Kove.

    “Storming off the path into the tangled yellow wood is so intensely gratifying I don’t care how reckless it might be. Shouting for my father is a cover; I’m not really looking for him anymore.”

    “No one knows where I am. Including me.”

  7. Chapter 6

    “Garden. Isn’t that what we’re talking about? Why do you garden if you hate it?”
    “You said it yourself,” he answers bitterly. “Gardening is part of who I am. It’s how I make the world a better place.”

    Scenes of inter sibling bonds and rivalries, Alexandra and one of her brothers, the latter expressing the oppressive, if lovingly accepted, influence of their father Alexander over the years.

    A sister’s childbirth of the eighth E-numbered or -alphabeticised child when compared to Alexander’s prying view of a photo of Alexandra and her own ‘children’ that he sees as adoptees not real ‘own children’, and their racial colours. Compare, too, in hindsight, I say, the clay moulding I mentioned above.

    “They are not my kind. They are not her kind, either, and I am furious with her for putting me in the position of reacting this way.”

    The mutually unaware or aware ping-ponging device in this novel – I have suddenly compared it as a mutual synergy with that in THE WAVES by Virginia Woolf, that I reviewed in detail, as it happened, in 2017: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2017/07/25/the-waves-virginia-woolf/
    Thinking about it, what about this Tem novel’s mutual synergy also with the Woolf’s TO THE LIGHTHOUSE, and, just as one example, the father Mr Ramsay and his inability to get past P in the alphabet…!
    [ My cross-reference of a Steve Rasnic Tem story with ‘The Waves’: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2019/02/04/the-harvest-child-and-other-fantasies-steve-rasnic-tem/#comment-14948 ]
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  8. Chapter 7

    “Because of the baby? Bella?”
    “Yes.”
    “That’s a really weird name.”
    “I think it’s a lovely name.”
    “But it doesn’t start with E.”
    “You’re right.”

    Alexander can’t get beyond that. As if Emily’s new child (please do read this book if you want to know what is wrong with it, use your own brain!), yes, as if this new child in his family is the last blighted straw of his own Fatherland!
    It is perhaps telling that the novel Alexandra is writing has such a title, one that somehow belies Virginia Woolf’s own stated ‘As a woman I have no country. As a woman my country is the whole world.’ Belies it meaningfully, ironically.
    A work-in-progress novel by his daughter Alexandra that Alexander has surreptitiously doctored with his marginalia. As he has also done by being a party to the father/daughter ping-pongs written here! [“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, /And sorry I could not travel both / And be one traveler,…”— Robert Frost]
    And I think of the pencilled marginalia that I use in all my reviewing — except, perforce, if it it is an ebook like this one, of course!
    And Alexandra rings one of her own children… children that have been disowned by her father by dint of their being legally adopted not by direct birth…

    “I swallow hard. ‘Will you have Dad call me at Grandpa’s when he gets back?’ Grandpa. Aunt Emily. These relational terms must mean next to nothing to her, since she’s never met these people.”

    “Where is senile dementia when you need it?”
    Who said that, I ask!

  9. 03D0564B-BD9B-429F-9A4B-8B8338915B12 Chapter 8

    “, all the retrieving and decoding of notes, all the gathering and scavenging, all the planting and tending and harvesting, all the meticulous measuring and re-measuring, I cannot be sure I have done everything correctly,”

    …as with my gestalt review of the text that contains such words!
    This is critical stuff, a showdown in (Plato’s?) cave of shadows between Alexandra and Alexander, a sort of pre-Midsommar sacrifice at age 82, a self-sacrifice ten years too late!
    Of course, when this was published, nobody had even conceived Midsommar. Yet, later with baby Bella and her open fontanel laid lovingly into the realms of Vaughn’s harpy, jingly and tambouriney one-man-band of music — another sacrifice or healing? even both? — is so utterly Midsommarish, I can’t believe it!
    Have I got it correct? This utterly preternatural epiphany.

  10. Chapter 9

    “The curtain makes a brown-and-gold tent over the three of us until my sister gathers it again around just herself.”

    Some beautiful and, at one point, frantic touches, moving the story on, Alexandra talking on the phone to her husband explaining why she is still here with her extended family, with her sister Emily and the latter’s Bella baby, and those reading this story alongside me will feel the emotions involved, and how there is almost a Midsommar leap from its aunt to its mother, and maybe that ‘its’ is right in the context? And Alexander pondering on his long missing wife and whether she will ever return, the family’s matriarch, and ‘missing’ sounds as if it starts lIke ‘mystery’ and there is a mystery how one blends into the other upon the mystery of intention in her potentially coincidental return to the fold…like undoing or doing-up double knots in a boy’s shoelaces?

  11. Chapter 10

    “—both Eva Marie and I were afraid of many things. Each other. Our children. People in any way unlike ourselves, which meant all people.”

    The ‘waves’ of interactive soliloquy-narratives between father and daughter continue – here layering more subtle complexities and infusions, certainly in his mind, vis a vis his marriage and the way he dealt with his children. Almost an interactive ritual of self’s literary and alchemical interpretation. That word ‘interactive’, again. Mixing ingredients towards an optimum breeding of those that he has already triggered into being. He despairs, of course, at the concept of Bella. From inside his mind, we can empathise with his difficulties. The thing that still mystifies me is Herpie the snake. The snake that once facilitated the bunny killing as part of the parent-child processes recounted here by Alexander. A new Book-of-Days proceeds.
    But we are now perhaps faced by a new contribution to the alternating soliloquy-narratives. The mother, Eva Marie, herself? Apparently been in the vicinity for a while. Now, is she about to be smoked out into full view from her earth?

    “…and although it was not raining the wood dripped grey-yellow under a low grey sky.”

  12. Chapter 11

    “I’ve regarded myself in a mirror half a dozen times, trying to imagine how my mother will see me, how I want her to see me, whether and why I care. I look fat. I look old. I look sturdy and solid.”

    It almost seems intended by some preternatural coalition – if impossibly so – that it is necessary to read THE WEIGHT LOST (here) just before reading this chapter.

    “…the sensation of being injected with a hot, viscous, mind-altering substance doesn’t stop, is not dependent on any other connection between us. I should have known that; he’s never had to be anywhere in my physical proximity to bless and curse me with his ‘gifts.’”

    There is a telepathy of body as well as mind. Alexandra even starts “composing meaningful and wildly unrealistic dialogue” in her head for her siblings to speak. But is it cause and effect or synchronicity? And does she do it for her father and newly encountered mother, too. Does Alexandra put the word ‘telepathy’ in Alexander’s mind for example? Is the mother’s harmonica playing an echo of her son Vaughn’s crazy music, some Charles Ives meeting of once separate musical forces into cacophony? Even baby Bella joins in, within some truth of this fiction. The blending of yellow wood and body, rain and seepage with body, baby Bella’s seepage, too. We are indeed dying at whatever age we tell you we are dying…
    [Perhaps the data-gathering snake called Herpie represents a thread of ‘meaning’ weaving through things without meaning anything in itself. A Wagnerian leitmotif or idée fixe? DH Lawrence’s Snake come to a watering-hole or cave? Or just viral shingles? SURVIve VIRUS fever, I say.]

  13. Chapter 12

    “…less of just about everything—less understanding, less peace of mind, less sense of who I am and what I’m supposed to be doing here.”

    “This morning Vaughn showed up with two wooden flutes and coaxed me into playing a clumsy duet with him.”

    As well as that duet, there is a dual textual palimpsest involved here, I think, Alexander’s Handbook over Alexandra’s Fatherland, or vice versa, but the novel that contains such a two way filter of a palimpsest is indeed this two way filter itself. Possibly this is the most sophisticatedly literary literariness that exists in literature, genre or otherwise? Can ANY reader cope with this book, I find myself asking. Let’s again call it alexical?

    “…something is trying to insinuate itself into me, pull something out of me. But I can neither concentrate nor get myself into any sort of calm, receptive, open place.”

    Is this extended Kove family all Alexander-based, all now cave-based, with Eva Marie, his wife, a mere unspoken adjunct? Why, incidentally, did he write Alexandra’s children in brackets for his Handbook – because they were adopted?

    “Human ontogeny and phylogeny being what they are, human young being so needy and vulnerable for such a long time, parents are required to dedicate themselves to their children. They must love unconditionally and be perpetually available. They must nurture and discipline, protect and stimulate, hold close and let go. They must make countless minute-by-minute decisions and plans for the distant future. Being a parent is more than should be asked of any human being,…”

    This is the crystallised Temch, I guess. As I head towards the end of my recent spate of Tem real-time reviewing. So please forgive this lengthy quote. And as I have these thoughts, Bella suddenly jumps with a start in the reader’s arms, as if having a fit – or having some sort of infantile sex imposed upon its presumed dead mind if not its body? Just as Alexander, equally perhaps heading towards his own dead mind, not of stunted babyhood, but of cut-down senility, is asked for sex by his long estranged and also now dying wife. This book makes one ask some very strange questions, make even stranger connections and have many inchoate thoughts about it.

  14. Chapters 13, 14 & 15

    I’ve been compelled to read the rest of the book as if in some eruption of themes and variations upon Frankenstein themes, Mad Science, Control Freakery and eventual catharsis, right up to the healing point of combined “will and will-lessness”, what I might call Null Immortalis. A tour de force that will work or not, depending on your mood.

    “His learning curve is plotted by means of line graphs, specific interventions across the horizontal axes, incidence of desired behaviours along the vertical. My skin begins to crawl.”

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    Almost child-abusive, in Alexander’s PROTOCOLS. His written formulae for Alexandra reach 64 pages! I remember bombarding my own son with music from in utero onward! Instilling one’s self as a gift. And now asked to instil peace for his wife’s fear of impending death. And Alexandra, with a burden of Bella hanging upon her, recalls the anthropomorphic tale of a snake she was instilled by her father to write when very young. I hope that is not a spoiler. Even if it is, it does not matter. This book needs opening up again, like a wound ready to be resewn and healed. Kove’s cave fulfilled. The Platonic shadows filled in. Snake at the door, if not Woolf. The family as commune in midsummer again.

    “There’s been no kinesthetic or psychological disorientation this time. No need for Herpie as narrow guide, or for Daddy to tell me what to do. I have no trouble finding my way, even with the distraction of the baby on my back, so still and light I keep having to reach awkwardly behind me to assure myself she’s there.”

    Reading this awkwardly behind and in front to assure myself Bella or Mella is still there.

    end

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