December 22, 2011

“The Hare’s Mask,” by Mark Slouka

I finished this year’s Best American Short Stories 2011 last night. It always gives me a moment of mourning ~ because I so look forward to it and I draw it out as long as I can. And this year especially because my taste must be similar to this year’s editor Geraldine Brooks. The stories she chose, to a one, were outstanding.

Some years, there is a story or two I can see the attraction of but the craft is not quite there. The reason they were included had more to do with the energy of the language or the unique vision of the author, merits unto themselves.

This year, not a one.

And, oh man, that last story, “The Hare’s Mask,” by Mark Slouka. Oh, wow. I was drawn in but marveling at its construction and the end moved me to tears. It’s the story of a young boy and his father, who was in Europe during the rise of the Nazis. The plot is, basically, the family harbors a man in their rabbit hutch for a few days, meanwhile the father as a boy has to go out every Friday and kill one the rabbits for the table. But he loves these rabbits and names them. Two in particular are his favorites. It is tough times, and then he must choose which of those two to kill. See, I’m getting tears just talking about it.

But what this story does so amazingly is the layers of metaphor and meaning. In the background is the Terrors, and we find out early that the boy/father is the only one who survives. You have the microcosm of this boy having to decide which of his beloveds to kill and then having to kill them, which so strongly resonates with the setting of the story. Even that small thing, the hare’s mask, which is the skin of the face of a hare that is used to tie flies, is a perfect metaphor for the masks we put on, the death of loved ones, the care the father takes with his children. And then you have the present day, which is the son knowing all this, sort of the omniscient narrator, but then his younger sister wants rabbits. It’s really hard for the father, and the son knows it, but the father lets her get rabbits anyway.

It gives me chills to think about the artistry of this piece. What I try to capture in my own fiction ~ with varying degrees of success ~ are those little moments of grace, lived reality, the small kindnesses and violences we do one another. And not just “capture” like a bug pinned to corkboard but elevate to art. How do you transport lived experience onto a higher plain? Make so just right, so moving, so perfect? Well, of course the short answer is that you can’t.

But you can try.


Pembroke Sinclair said...

You do a great job of capturing those things in your work. Many a times I've been moved to tears by your stories or felt my chest tighten in anticipation. Don't sell yourself short! You're great at what you do!

Tamara said...

You are so kind! Thank you so much, P. I can see the great things in others' work (yours, for example), but it's hard to see in my own.

Thank you!