by Marionne Gapuz
Near the beginning of the new millennium came images of giants collapsing and human bodies leaping flashed on the television, as the public watched, unsettled and almost disbelieving. The country’s next move became imperative. Carolina Quarterly‘s 2001 Winter Issue arrived in mailboxes in the wake of national trauma, and many pieces in this issue reveal what a burden the search for hope could be and explore the extent to which hope is attainable.
Daniel Wallace’s “Maurice Quimby: A Life,” a short story about an enigmatic novelist, launches the collection. Vividly described as an obtrusively odd individual and an unappreciated (not underappreciated) author, Quimby remains an outsider in his community and in the literary world. The narrator, having been Quimby’s only friend, speaks with compassion, not pity, as he weaves the story of Quimby’s resignation to his sad life. Yet, this portrayal seems incomplete until Wallace’s narrator shows how Quimby’s fiction reflects aspects of the fictional author’s life. The tale becomes not as much about the eponymous character or the narrator as it is about what kind of person constitutes a writer. As the narrator’s empathy increases through the story, he opens the possibility for Quimby’s voice to garner an audience, who will better understand the pathos behind Quimby’s “impenetrable prose style.” Wallace’s short story speaks to the post-9/11 world through the shred of hope it uncovers for Quimby, suggesting that no one remains perpetually isolated.
The single-mother protagonist in Kristi Gedeon’s “Letting Down” has found hope, yet the poetic prose piece questions the value of hope when it produces mere contentment. The woman nurses her baby, whom she has brought to her significant other’s home. Gedeon disorients the reader, as she unconventionally but appropriately merges the two spheres of dating and motherhood. The woman’s acceptance of one almost-satisfying relationship with her boyfriend, in consideration of her relationship with her child, elicits concern, more so than sympathy, from the story’s readers. The notion of settling for something less than happiness doesn’t sit well with any reader, despite a promise of much-desired security.
Amber Flora Thomas surprises her readers by juxtaposing the nearly aborted pursuit of hope with the whimsicality of ladybugs in her poem, “October Ladybugs.” Thomas connects the invasion of ladybugs in a gynecologist’s office to an infestation of a medical kind that plagues the speaker. The poem both amuses and disturbs early on with the image of the “uterus dappled/ With the heart-shaped crawlers.” Thomas asserts the speaker’s ability to regain hopewhen she writes about how the frail ladybugs, seemingly doomed to plummet to their deaths, can open their wings and quickly save themselves. It is up Thomas’s speaker to choose. “October Ladybugs” reminds its readers that the ability to “recover equilibrium” still exists even if all seems doomed.
On the heels of 9/11 arrived a unifying and uplifting belief in the nation’s ability to mend. This issue of Carolina Quarterly mirrors the dysphoria and the proclivity to search for security and hope through human bonds and nonhuman connections. The pieces that have been mentioned are only glimpses into the human resilience that the rest of the fiction collection portrays, complicates, and ultimately affirms.