The Chaos, chapters 6-9
My reading this week starts with a normal “weird” smell – that of a public bathroom – and ends with Scotch accepting weird visions as the norm. As chapter nine closes, she can be nonchalant about a dog with human hands. After all, she’s just watched a woman float away on a giant eggshell piece, with the house that laid the egg. Simply put, Scotch’s world has gone mad. Not just her world – let’s face it, as a normal teenager Scotch’s world doesn’t extend very far beyond Scotch – but the world: the world beyond Toronto; the world of distant places known only via an older generations’ stories of homelands; the world of CNN.
And how does an author create such a mad world? How does Hopkinson help us to not only, as Stephen puts it, “enter the chaos,” but also begin to accept that chaos as Scotch does in order to focus on what’s important – finding her now-missing brother? First, she creates an engaging narrator, one we already care about before the world explodes. Next, she draws us in with poetic imagery that challenges us to mix our sense, to maybe smell with our ears or taste with our eyes.
Hopkinson eases us in slow. Yes, there were Horseless Head Men and Scotch’s mysterious skin condition were strange, and there were a few cases of unexplainable behavior at her school, but nothing in the first five chapters really said sci-fi/fantasy/surrealist/weird. But now there is a bubble in the bar…a giant bubble that Scotch quickly realized, everyone can see, and smell, and maybe even touch:
The bubble was only inches away from me. It was maybe twice my height, a glowing, opaque white. Soft colors inside it. Some of them colors without names. And the smell coming from it! Almost too faint to detect over the odor of stale beer coming off the barroom floor, but it was there. Like the memory of how last summer’s lilacs smelled. Like a Jamaican beef patty, hot from the oven. The kind with more meat in it than cornstarch thickener. Like your dad’s cologne the last time he hugged you. I reached my hand out toward it. (79)
Beautiful right? It draws you in, teasing your senses, making you want to touch it too. At the same time, it pushes you back, out into your own memories of that fresh patty (maybe even a Tastee’s patty, yes?) that you want as badly as Scotch wants to touch that bubble, badly enough to burn yourself on the filling.
And Scotch does get burned, second-hand. She gets sucked into an unrecognizable world where she struggles to piece various sensations together using a woefully inadequate framework of “normal” referents. Here Hopkinson bombards readers with more vivid, unexpected imagery, immersing us in the confusion Scotch faces:
There were other people, also seated in rows of seats. If you could call them “people.” A few looked human, except for the bandicoot heads. And the arms made of smoke. And the fact that you could see through their chests and they each had three hearts beating inside…Okay, they didn’t look like people at all. But way more so than the ones that looked like a cross between a melty, burning wax candle and the color three, or the ones that tasted like yesterday and whistled like empty brains. (84)
I actually stopped reading to try and imagine what the color three would look like. And then, how yesterday might taste. But I was soon back to Scotch and her determined denial (she worries at first more about getting in trouble with her parents than about the volcano that has suddenly appeared in Lake Ontario), then her similarly determined acceptance of the chaos. She thinks at the close of chapter nine, “I guess if a person could be turned into a cartoon today, they could be turned into anything.” And midway through the novel I am feeling the same and looking forward to more smells I can hear and tastes I can remember touching.