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October Weird Book Club: Storytelling in Duplex

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message 1: by Read (last edited Oct 16, 2016 10:08AM) (new)

Read Weird (readweird) | 6 comments Mod
DuplexAnother aspect that thrilled us about Duplex was the way stories and storytelling shape the novel. For instance, Janice tells stories about what seems to be ancient history (i.e., the Rain of Beads) and also about recent history (i.e., Mary and Eddie). The novel is also infused with fairy tale influences, such as the resonance between the sorcerer Body-without-Soul and Koschei the Deathless of Russian fairy tales. What role do you see the stories Janice tells playing in the novel as a whole? How do fairy tales inform this novel?

Post your thoughts about storytelling and folklore of Duplex here!


message 2: by Carlea (new)

Carlea | 20 comments I first encountered an excerpt of this novel in Kate Bernheimer's fairy tale retelling anthology My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me, so I inevitably started reading Duplex in the context of a fairy tale retelling. But I think that this is is actually more complex than a retelling. Davis isn't straightforwardly narrating the events of a pre-existing story, or putting a twist on a familiar tale. It's really more like she's cherry-picking elements to include, or infusing the story with these references. The needle-like robots, the egg, the island on the Woodard estate, even the hare that shows up from time to time -- there all suggest Koschei the Deathless, but as far as I know, this is not a retelling of any one particular story. Instead, they create color and texture and lend a framework of sorts.

As I'm thinking about it, though . . . Although the novel references these elements pretty explicitly, it also doesn't seem to rely on them at all. It doesn't need Koschei the Deathless to make sense. It just borrows something wonderful and transforms it. I don't know what to make of this, exactly.


message 3: by Lindsay (new)

Lindsay | 18 comments I loved Janice's interludes and the way they expanded the textural references in the Mary/Eddie story line. In most, if not all, cases, strange phenomena like the Rain of Beads and the Descent of the Aquanauts are textural details, barely more than references, in the Mary/Eddie timeline, and we're not quite sure what these references mean to those in the story. For instance, we first learn of the Rain of Beads on p. 31, where we're told it's the theme for Mary and Eddie's prom, "which some teachers had objected to as inappropriate, but their objections had been overridden by the prom committee." Even though we don't KNOW what the Rain of Beads refers to at this time, we are familiar with the idea of proms, prom committees, and teachers meddling in students' wishes, and so I found myself willing to let go of my absence of knowledge and simply take the Rain of Beads as a feature of this world. In the next chapter, though, Janice steps in with the story of the Rain of Beads, and holy crap. No wonder the teachers objected.


message 4: by Carlea (new)

Carlea | 20 comments Lindsay wrote: "I loved Janice's interludes and the way they expanded the textural references in the Mary/Eddie story line. In most, if not all, cases, strange phenomena like the Rain of Beads and the Descent of t..."

Yes! I love this! I feel like this strategy is much more effective than the other way around, which is what most of us would probably expect from a work of fiction -- that is, explain what the thing is first, and then refer to it. Instead, Davis sort of seeds the grounds with these references (framing them in familiar contexts like prom or costume parties) and lets them come to fruition later.

This is such a challenging move -- one that I think could easily alienate readers, but it doesn't (at least not this reader). I'm curious how she manages to pull this off, exactly -- to be mysterious but not too confusing. Although, to be fair, this book is plenty confusing, it's just that it never loses me, but rather always keeps me hanging on for more.


message 5: by Lindsay (new)

Lindsay | 18 comments Carlea wrote: "Yes! I love this! I feel like this strategy is much more effective than the other way around, which is what most of us would probably expect from a work of fiction -- that is, explain what the thing is first, and then refer to it. Instead, Davis sort of seeds the grounds with these references (framing them in familiar contexts like prom or costume parties) and lets them come to fruition later."

So much yes here! I agree that most works of fiction work the other way around, and that this is a challenging decision on Davis' part, but I also think that if Davis had inverted the order, she would have lost us. Can you imagine finding out about the Rain of Beads and then having it referenced later on? I think the genre would have to be totally different, if this happened. We wouldn't feel the same about the moments of normalcy that shape Mary's life. But seeding these references to extraordinary things in ordinary moments totally normalizes them, I think, or at least enables the reader to accept the possibility that this IS the world's normal.


message 6: by Carlea (new)

Carlea | 20 comments Lindsay wrote: "Carlea wrote: "Yes! I love this! I feel like this strategy is much more effective than the other way around, which is what most of us would probably expect from a work of fiction -- that is, explai..."

Interesting! I really like your suggestion about how genre plays into this strategy. In a way, this similar to the Game of Thrones method -- mention dragons and white walkers, then finally show them to us. I suspect this might be a common strategy of non-realist writing.


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