This is another in the Madras Press initial series of teeny-tiny books (see Aimee Bender’s The Third Elevator) and is very different but just as gripping to me – a story of a dinner party that exposes the state of several marriages and ends with an intrusion that destroys one.
The key image of the bobcat refers to an adventure of one of the dinner guests. She’d been out travelling the world when she was attacked by a bobcat and her injuries resulted in the loss of her arm. Other guests start to murmur among themselves that it couldn’t have happened that way, and eventually one states this disbelief openly. She doesn’t argue, she approaches it metaphorically – does it matter if it was a real bobcat or not? That sticks with me, because of course someone who’s had that kind of experience would be devastated to encounter people who don’t believe her.
The climactic event is just as shadowy. I’m not clear exactly what happened. I don’t think I’m supposed to know from the text. But we can all supply our own bobcat, because does it matter what kind of bobcat it is, what kind of disaster, the fact is, there is an intrusion and a dismemberment.
The language throughout is wonderful, down-to-earth, but quite beautiful as well. The opening sentences:
It was the terrine that got to me. I felt queasy enough that I had to sit in the living room and narrate to my husband what was the brutal list of tasks that would result in a terrine: devein, declaw, decimate the sea and other animals, eventually emulsifying them into a paste which could then be riven with whole vegetables. It was like describing to somebody how to paint a Monet, how to turn the beatuy of the earth into a blurry, intoxicating swril, like something seen through the eyes of the dying.
This opening discussion of the making of a terrine, leading into an introduction of the guests, hooked me. There’s an incredible line about Salman Rushdie that still makes me stop and think, and an exchange about themed nurseries that still makes me giggle. As I’ve said the final event had me re-reading the text to see if I’d missed something, some crucial detail in an earlier passage, but I didn’t, it’s merely one of those stories that thrives on ambiguity, that provides a big idea and lets the reader supply the details. I like that. I usually get dinged when I try it, but I appreciate how it’s handled here, because marriage is like that, nothing is ever certain and it’s all very vague, it’s like a terrine where there’s seafood and vegetables and they’re all chopped up but you get the general idea, and several months after first reading the story, I’m still struck by the imagery of the bobcat, and the woman who showed up and stayed and stayed, and the terrine, which “really does need to be great to be not awful – it is meant to evince a perfect melding of disparate entities – the lion lying with the lamb, the sea greeting the land, and so forth.” That’s a lot of mileage out of a terrine.