FICTION NON-FICTION

Last night, my grandma and I sat down at the kitchen table and talked. She had tea, and I was having a late dinner. As with many of our conversations, they're about more than one thing at once, a phenomenon which may be due singularly to my grandma's avid use of pronouns. You can never be too sure what or who she's actually talking about.

We talked about my work, which involves work at the Lion Hotel on Powell Street. Her mother-in-law, my great grandma (Blue Grandma, we call her, for some reason) used to live at the Lion. I asked my grandma if she remembers which room Blue Grandma used to live in.

She shook her head. "No, but you go in, and up the stairs, and then there's a looong hallway," her arm stretching out with the o's. "And her room was in the middle on the left."
"And we don't actually know how old she was when she died there?"
"No. When she was getting on, Eric asked her and she said... I forget... 77 or something, she said, and he said: but Mom, how can that be if I'm sixty-... uh, sixty-whatever-he-was... And she looked at him, pointed at him, and said: you lie." (She acted out Blue Grandma's movements, and then broke character and laughed).

Plus, my grandma's reading The Poisonwood Bible. She thinks Rachel's funny. She's always laughing at Rachel's cleverness and malapropisms. I think Ruth May is my favourite. We agree that Leah's chapters are the most boring to read.

She reflected, "I think she's about my age."
"Who is?"
"The mother. Well---"
"The mother...? You mean Kingsolver?"
Smacking her palm to her forehead, "Yeah, Kingsolver."
"Yeah, I think she's probably about your age." (Sure?)
"Yeah. Because I recognize the, you know... I know what she's talking about."
"It resonates with you, does it?"
"Yeah."

Interesting enough that she seems to inadvertently associate Barbara Kingsolver with the mother in the story, Orleanna Price, and not one of the daughters, given that like the Price daughters, Kingsolver moved to the Congo with her family when she was a child.

"But I think he hit his head in the war," she said.
"Who did? The father?"
"Yeah. Because... yeah, I think he hit his head or something."

More interesting that in a conversation about The Poisonwood Bible, we blur the real and the fictional. Why does my grandma recognize the allusions and references in the text? Maybe because Barbara Kingsolver (who is real) is about the same age as her, and so my grandma and Barbara have collected a similar set of cultural data. Why is Nathan Price (who is fictional) such an abusive father and husband? Maybe because he hit his head in the war.

"He fought in the war?" (I read the book years ago. I couldn't remember).
"Yeah."
"The Second World War?"
"Yeah, but I think he hit his head, bumped it on a rock or something."
"Does someone say that? Or do we just know that he fought in the war and that he's terrible?"
"Well, she alludes to it."
"The mother?"
"Yeah. She says he wasn't the same after the war, so I think he hit his head and now he has, or he's, you know..."
"Maybe has PTSD or something."
"Yeah."

Could be.

My grandpa might have had PTSD or something too. He was an angry man and "never really let it go," as my grandma pointed out last night. But also, he was born in Shanghai to a Japanese mother and a British father, before being sent to Canada by ship to land in Vancouver when he was 5, only to have the RCMP try to shoo him and his family to an "internment camp" (read: incarceration), to which his tough-ass mother said nuh-uh, after which they subsisted in the racially-tense-as-fuck lower mainland on whatever his dad managed to send them from his P.O.W. camp (read: nothing) and her income from work, whatever that was (read: probably sex work). So like, yeah, I might also be angry, and I might also never really let that go.

Not that it excused his violence. Nor does Nathan Price's hitting his head on something in the war excuse his violence. But excusing violence is not the point. The point is that in The Poisonwood Bible, we are invited to consider the experiences of women, not particularly the experiences of men. The book is composed of chapters, each titled one of five names: Orleanna, Leah, Adah, Rachel, or Ruth May. The voices we hear are these five women's voices. Nathan Price is not unimportant, but he is secondary. He is a part of the story only so much as and in the ways that these five women allow. My grandma's not even finished the book, but to read 200+ pages of a story throughout which you learn that the central male character, Nathan Price, is an abusive father and husband, to pop out the other end iterating and reiterating that you think he hit his head or something in the war is no unremarkable thing. So if, in The Poisonwood Bible, we're considering the experiences of women (which I insist we are), and yet we're fixated on the fact that maybe he hit his head or something in the war, then what does that fixation say about women's experiences? Whose experience are we considering? Real or fictional?

When you say you think he hit his head or something in the war, what are you saying? In this back and forth conversation between the Price family in Kikongo and the Belcher family on Powell Street, why do you keep saying that you think he hit his head or something in the war? Who hit his head? With whom are you empathizing? I think he hit his head in the war: one wonders if this is an expression of empathy not felt for the fictional Nathan Price, but rather for the real Ian Belcher.