At first glance, the surface of Carolyn Chute's prose ripples with a loopy, hippy-like playfulness. Think Richard Brautigan. Readers who delve deeper into any part of her quartet of novels soon realize, however, they have entered a world of Faulkneresque drama. Chute's latest book, The School on Heart's Content Road (excerpted here), once again pits the free-spirited residents of an off-the-grid New England commune in the fictional town of Egypt in the very real state of Maine against the rapacious forces of 21st-century commercial, mass culture.
|The School on Heart’s Content Road | By Carolyn Cute | Atlantic Monthly Press | 352 pages | $24|
Time chugs on. Late afternoon of a mid-September day.In the cold parlor of the St. Onge farmhouse, deep in the old collapsing couch, sort of wrapped in the couch, in its waves of whimpering springs and hills of upholstery of frazzled blue nap, are 15-year-old Brianna and Gordon. His thick legs are stretched out, feet on the rug. She has her legs curled under her as she leans toward him and he is looking at her, face-to-face. His face normal, hers stretched by birth defect.
He smells of the hot fields and hot work, perhaps even some chaff in the seams of his faded blue T-shirt. She places her hands on his shoulders; her hands and her body and work shirt and jeans smell of the woods and of hot work too — of a logging operation, specifically, woods-spiced with skidder grease and a smoodge of pink bar-and-chain oil — and she looks steadily into his face and she does not giggle. She is his wife now. She takes herself for granted. She sees his eyes on her face and on her bright ripply hair, which falls over her back and over her shirtfront. These eyes of his are filled with her sweaty, woodsy, cigarette sweet opulence . . . his eyes and his being are drawn to her, pulled to her, stuck. As in a web, yes.
She says huskily, "We are mind into mind. We are getting mixed up." He smiles, in a twinkly, restrained way.
She sees his 40-year-old eyes crinkle at the sides, eyes the palest she's ever known, like some great big cat. She almost giggles. They are on the edge of so many sort ofs and almosts as she leans closer, now forehead to forehead. This is painful to him as he is becoming farsighted, but he doesn't draw back. He accommodates.
She says, "There is only one big soul, but nature stuffs pieces of the soul into all these separate skulls. My dear beautiful male thing, if we mix souls we are breaking the law of nature and it could be hard on us." He says, "Baby, we are breaking all the laws."
She reaches with her fingers behind his ears and along his neck and sets all the nerves there alive; her stiff logger fingers have the lightest touch. She draws her head back and, still staring into his eyes, she says, "We have our windows open, dear husband." She flutters her strange far-apart eyes. "Our souls are getting out of our skulls!"