Thursday, October 18, 2007

Charles de Lint's "Make a Joyful Noise": A woman finally prepares to grow out of her past

Something about this story touched me.

It's a very well told motivational story: don't let demons from your past spoil your present. But presented as a fantasy - with ghosts & shape-shifters.

While fantasy is not my genre, this story changed my mind. Fantasy need not be stupid & meaningless.

Actually, last 10% could have been dropped from the story - it just drags it senselessly. But first 90% is great.

Full story text is available for download.

Story summary.

Story is narrated by Maida - a "corbae" - a kind of angelic shape-shifter that can assume human body or of a crow, & can magically appear from spaces inaccessible to ordinary humans. She has an inseparable companion, her "sister" Zia who is not her sister!

They are very nosy. Once, at night, Maida enters a home via an open window as crow; then begins exploring inside in her human shape.

This is the home of Quinn family. Only a sad old woman now lives there - alone. She had lost both her children decades ago when they were young - an athletic girl Madeline ("Maddy") who received much affection, & her neglected brother Donald ("Donnie"). Woman apparently has completely forgotten about her son, but continues to mourn her daughter.

Ghost of Donald still moves through the house. He makes Maida promise she will make his mother remember him. Zia will help Maida & Donald through the project.

As the story unfolds, we learn that old woman's husband Ted had walked out on her, leaving her responsible for two kids. She thought the son was emotionally mature enough to take care of himself, while daughter needed a lot of hand-holding.

Son grows up a sad boy, thinking mom doesn't love him. One fine day, aged 15, he will die alone at home after getting bitten by a bug, while mom is out with sister. Sister will later die in a car accident.

When confronted by Zia (posing as daughter) to old woman, we learn the old woman has always felt that she is somehow responsible for the death of her son. She just cannot get rid of the guilt. Talking things out, with son's ghost present, finally prepares both the mother & son's ghost to let bygones be bygones.

Logically, this is where story should have ended. But it goes on dragging for a while. I didn't like this later portion.


Several quotes in the story caught my attention.
  1. "We all carry around other people’s expectations of who we are, and sometimes we end up growing into those expectations."
  2. "you’re usually way too focused on past wrongs and the like to be any fun."
  3. "Why is it so easy to spread sadness and so hard to spread happiness?"
  4. "if you pretend you’re happy, you can trick yourself into at least feeling better."
  5. "There’ll always be sadness, but try to remember that it wasn’t always that way."
  6. "Life’s not very tidy, ... so I suppose there’s no reason for death to be any different."
  7. "We have to go mad and dance and sing and do cartwheels along the telephone wires like we’re famous trapeze artists... Because it’s better than feeling sad."

Fact sheet.

"Make a Joyful Noise", short story, review
First published: Subterranean Press, Summer 2007.
Rating: Time well spent A
Added to my best of the year 2007 picks.