Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Spinning a whole new tale

Think about yarn for a moment.  If you look at it under the microscope, you'll see that it's a series of fibrous strands that have been woven together so tightly they seem to fuse into a single cord.  Little ends of the strands edge free from the cord and catch the light that shines on the weave. Story yarns are the same: a woven rope of characters, narrative and plot points pull the entire tale together while, here and there, a strand can catch the light.  Some story yarns are so strong that other writers can spread out their elements, and then reweave them into another pattern that shows what you didn't see before.  Gregory Maguire did this with Wicked and Joan Aiken rewove Jane Austen's Emma into her own Jane Fairfax.  I love this technique but the one I love even more is when a writer pulls one of the glinting  ends at the edge of a story and teases a whole new tale from that thread.  T. K. Thorne did this in 2011 when she pulled the bright thread of a character from the book of Genesis and created a tale named Noah's Wife.  At last, the Lady of the Ark has a voice.

Her name is Na'amah and the locals agree she's unusual.  Not quite right.  Because her recall of  detail, Na'amah can recite the markings and lineage of every sheep in the flock but she can't look most people in the eye.  She's direct to the point of being rude and has difficulty understanding humor or lies.  She's not sure the gods really exist.  She's only sure about what she learns through her senses which is how she meets the boat maker.  "Why do you wrinkle your nose,"  Noah asks.  "Because you smell bad" replies Na'amah.

Genesis mentions Na'amah only in genealogical terms (a descendant of Cain) and Noah's wife in lists relating to the ark but a Jewish text interpreting Genesis says these two were one and the same. T K Thorne takes it a step further by giving  Na'amah a personality, opinions and a soul to match the man of history she married.  The hard life of her biblical tribe is here as well as the problems that confound people today.  Na'amah faces her tragedies and triumphs with the same tears and joy  we know and her retelling of the story of the flood comes with a perspective that accounts for the world-changing event as well as the problems of living in a boat with a bunch of incontinent animals. 

Life and love, death and despair are all part of the human condition.  This is not subject to change.  How we react to these is so variable and important that we've woven a tapestry of stories to guide us through each part of our lives.  Noah's Wife was once an idea, teased from a glinting edge of a character that lived in the first book of the Bible.  Now Na'amah repeats her life's story and it becomes a guide on how to live until you're sure life will continue.   And someday that continuing life may spin another tale that glints on the edges of hers. 

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