The Long Drive Home
It’s been quite the week around here, complete with two trips in to the city. We used to go every month or so to go to the zoo or to one of the museums but, once the pandemic hit, we became used to sticking around our small town and the immediate environs. There are times when I miss the big city. There are even times when I miss our drives in to the big city because we get to travel through some very lovely countryside.
However, after two years of not going anywhere the kilometres no longer whip by outside of the window and it can take me a day or two to recover my state of calm after travelling even that short distance. The two trips were almost too much for me. Yet, there’s a silver lining because I thought I’d never get through them and I actually managed them more smoothly than I thought was possible.
I even almost enjoyed them in the way that I used to before the world changed so abruptly. It gave me some hope that we’re on the way back to somewhere I thought we’d never be able to return to — a time when I was comfortable with travel and going a bit more outside my comfort zone.
Coming of Age
Qiu Maiojin’s novel Notes of a Crocodile is a beautiful piece of writing that defies simple description. The story centres around a young woman studying at a prestigious university in Taiwan. Academia provides a concrete backdrop for a constantly shifting narrative in which the narrator is struggling to come to terms with herself and asserting that self in a society that treats her like an aberration because of her sexuality. She yearns for a life trajectory that is impossibly out of reach. When she begins dating an older woman named Shui Ling, she falls in love but also feels stuck in the stasis of knowing that they can never legally marry or even be publicly recognized as a couple.
While overburdened with this inescapable futility, Lazi finds others who are just as lost, but her connections with them are fraught even if they are forged in the proverbial trenches.
Isolation and Alienation
Like Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, which I reviewed a few months ago, the main focus of Notes of a Crocodile is the narrator’s alienation. She tries on many different hats and attempts to be many different types of people, but the bonds she builds often fall through. She tries throwing herself into university life but doesn’t find fulfillment. She both wants and doesn’t want a romantic relationship. She tries to fit in with other queer youth but finds no solace amongst them. She feels profoundly alone and exists at the tipping point where lonely young adulthood can turn into an aimless existence.
In her isolated state, the narrator connects with the reader as a crocodile, which Qiu uses as a metaphor for otherness. A being that is tolerated but at the same time hunted. As the narrator seeks out more people like her that exist on the fringes of society, she also feels the risk inherent in admitting what she truly is and what she truly wants.
Unlike Salinger, Qiu uses metaphor and a fragmentary literary style. The novel unfolds in moments, images, and feelings. Things happen, but for the most part the focus is on the introspective experience of the narrator. The reader is guided to think about the words, to analyze their placement, and to explore the emotions that the imagery is meant to invoke and determine what it would be like to live in a society that sees you as a monster for doing nothing wrong.
The novel might be a bit difficult for those that like a more formal, stringent story structure or progression, but even if you struggle with form, I would say that this book is worth taking a chance on. There’s enough of a plot to be guided, but there is also a freedom to breathe and think about the conceptual side of writing. There is some of both worlds and learning to embrace both is an essential part of studying literature of all sorts.
Weather on the Long Drive Home
Do you ever have a moment when you feel like the weather might be seriously out to get you? On one of our recent drives, we started the morning in nearly solid mist and then on the way back home we ran into a snowstorm that made it nearly impossible to see the lines on the road. I am extremely grateful that my lovely spouse is a very cautious and skilled driver. I’m also perhaps reconsidering our reluctance to get winter tires even though we are now in the based in the snowbelt.