Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Tempest of Clemenza, personal meaning

The first paragraph of the short prologue:
Ludlow, Vermont. August. If I had known it was to be the last day of Clemenza's life, I would not have returned to The Haunted Mansion with the diaries. I would not have driven in that cursed rain searching for a beautiful notebook, as she had requested, so that she could begin writing the story of her life. I would have stayed by the fire, at her side, the two of us warming ourselves after our ordeal on the lake in the storm. But she had urged me to go. The diaries had to be returned to their author. And Clemenza was eager to embark on her own account of her life in the notebook that very night. She had just turned thirteen and felt that such an achievement warranted commemoration.”

An even shorter epilogue ends the book, and you can imagine the event that it relays. The pair frame the novel. 

The Tempest of Clemenza is the closest to my heart of all that my mother wrote and is the last of her completed novels. It is beautiful and surreal. My mother plays with the gothic novel form so deftly: stories framing stories, darkness, death, unexpected visitors, peril, and, O, the stormy Vermont holiday and the stormy painting at the Brooklyn Museum that Clemenza gazes at. 
"A Storm in the Rocky Mountains," Albert Bierstadt, at the Brooklyn Museum
The greatest personal bit: my mother and I are in it. The mother and daughter--Abel and Clemenza--stay in a Vermont house that my mother and I stayed at. They visit the Haunted Mansion antiquarian bookshop, as we did. Clemenza wears impractical gold vintage sandals on a hike, as I did.

Of course, they are not us, but my mother loaned them so much of us, even the geese chasing us when we were out on a rowboat boating once in Australia somewhere. My terrible, too-short haircut is there, which my mother thought looked “so French.” I look at old photos and still hate that haircut. I wore hats, as Clemenza does. Of course, Clemenza dies in end of an unnamed long-term illness, and I clearly did not, but even this event makes me shiver. Not only is it an affecting, emotional story, but her death also place marks all those mother-daughter memories for me: how close we could be and the stories that only the two of us experienced. Obviously, Tempest holds powerful personal meaning for me, .

The meaning of life doesn’t concern me much. (I don't think it has any.) I am likely too much in my own head; ruminating on smaller things is my style. I have been told many times I think or worry too much. I do. I can find strong meaning in events, people, even things--an object, song word or phrase, so much so that I have a physical reaction, a shiver, a heart flutter, a wave of slight dizziness. But a greater truth or meaning does not exist. This is personal. 

At this moment, I am typing at an antique spool-legged table with drop leaves that feels like home, because it was in my New York City apartment from my birth. My mother is signified, as is my childhood. I would sit cross-legged or with knees up during dinner, and my mother would bemoan the fact that she never taught me proper table manners. My mother and father bought it at some antique auction before I was born, so it even signifies that they once were a couple. I will hold on to this rickety table until it falls apart. Stories are in this table.

Similarly, holding a copy of The Tempest of Clemenza comforts me. The object and the stories told are significant, but just to me.   

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