Lost & Found
Detail from The Coronation of Haile Selassie, 1930
by Joel Gn
My Life as an Animal,
by Laurie Stone,
Northwestern University Press, 217 pp.
In a store, you imagine you are witnessing the birth of an object. At yard sales, you carry away a little of the person, and they are left with your expression as you gazed with admiration at something that was theirs. (p.4)
This quote from the opening piece of Laurie Stone’s collection of short stories is both an intimate statement and preamble to the other vignettes that are to follow. In a picturesque blend of the biographical and fictional, Stone’s pithy and at times comical prose takes us through the colours and contrasts of Arizona, New York and London; places where the narrator finds or stumbles upon moments and persons that affect her in ways both poignant and profound.
My Life as an Animal is a literary memoir that belongs to what Stone and others refer to as ‘hybrid writing’, a genre bringing together techniques from other media within the prose form. Narrated in the first-person, Stone’s descriptions of people and places are vivid but not clinical, and she allows a variety of subtexts to surface with her own thoughts at every turn, as deftly portrayed in the brief but frenetic Elevator:
The strangers filed out silently, and I was left alone under a sky dense with stars and bright with moonlight. I moved along a road, casting a shadow that looked like I was walking on stilts. Suddenly I looked down and saw my scarf had been loosely knotted in four places. Each stranger had tied the scarf while my attention was directed elsewhere. (p.23)
Such transitions in imagery are not a jarring dissonance, but render a multi-faceted coherence that leads to other excursions from what the narrator has seen or even perceived. André, for example, may seem like a harrowing re-enactment of sexual grooming, but it is also a sardonic reflection on the boundary between the animal and human. In seeking to understand her deviant but troubled psychoanalyst André, the narrator takes reference from the behaviour of primates and Shakespeare’s beastly Iago, only to ambivalently conclude that André’s world was filled with ‘barracudas and fish that could swim away’. The piece concludes with a questioning of perspective that complements the title of the collection, as she wonders about the animal she came to be in his eyes.
Yet most of Stone’s writings touch on the transformations from loves lost and found. In particular, the narrator’s relationship with her mother, whom she affectionately refers to as ‘Toby’ is at times strained, but fragments of their time together are delicately put together in many of her reminisces. Shortly after her mother’s passing, a memory of some amusement is conveyed, albeit with a heavy heart:
Outside, my mother still skitters along Fifty-Eight Street. She stands in front of the Plaza Hotel on the red carpet, secured with brass rivets, chatting with the doorman while scanning the distance for the dot that is me. If I am a minute late, she fears I have been abducted by aliens. I should be so lucky. (p 67-68)
This juxtaposition of the comic and tragic continues in other parts of the work, including her romantic relationships. With Richard she finds love and intellectual companionship. Though characteristic of their maturity, their banter is also infused with a tender appreciation of the other’s wit and eccentricities. Musing about David Nash in Boulder, the couple comes to realise their lives are analogous to one of the sculptor’s sculpted boulders, floating and traversing in the waters of shifting values, without an exact place to call home.
Indeed, much of Stone’s text resonates with a fleeting sense of place, and her nimble control of the prose form allows words to mirror the fluid pace of a life filled with friendships, loves, and aspirations. The final piece, Happiness, takes place in her rental apartment in New York, and she has to manage the demands of a difficult landlord. Richard is not at all enthusiastic about the place, but he also dishes out an anecdote about objects that change as they move in and out of museums. Inertia can be a burden, but the desire to settle in one place is far from the crux of the matter. As Stone herself exuberantly illustrates in this collection, memories, like what is left behind in a yard sale, are made when something is shared between two, and this can only take place, if one makes the move to find that which was lost.
About the Author:
Joel Gn obtained a PhD in Communications and New Media at the National University of Singapore, with a dissertation on the phenomenological implications of cuteness in technological artefacts. Joel’s work centers on philosophical engagements with design aesthetics, new media and East Asian popular culture. He currently teaches at SIM University, Singapore.