Not long ago I heard a story on NPR about the effects of e-readers on the world of reading. People are reading more, particularly young people. The commentator suggested the increase could be due to anonymity: when you're on an electronic device, people might not know you're reading. Could be the kid on the bus next to you isn't just listening to rap or playing a game. He might be reading Great Expectations without fear of being labeled a nerd - or whatever it is kids call each other these days.
I was about to buy a copy of Jack Remick's Gabriela and the Widow in paperback because I'm old school, because I don't have an e-reader, because I like the feel of paper in my hands. But NPR made me question my bias against e-books, so I downloaded Kindle on my small Acer laptop, bought my first e-book and began to read.
I didn't like slipping into bed with a cold hard laptop. I couldn't float on the magic and mystery of Remick's lyrical prose. I was dog paddling with arrow buttons, unable to scan ahead or flip back to reread with the ease of turning a page. Still, the power of Remick's words kept me at it, pulled me to a computer screen long after my teaching and writing day was over. That screen became a portal and the story took me to the far side of my own life's mirror, a life I once lived and allowed to slip from memory.
“When you go through your reflection you become who you are.”
The Widow reminds us that we must never forget our past, for it is what makes us who we are and who we become.
“You must speak from inside the tears and you must smell the pain on your skin or you will never be whole again.”
Remick writes the tools of the craft into his story: a list of events and a stack of notecards, each labeled with date, place and object. Gabriela and the Widow use these tools to construct the List of the Widow's life and in doing so Gabriela experiences new ways of being, alternatives to the violent patterns that have marked her young life. Throw nothing of yourself away, the Widow teaches. Save your fingernail clippings, your hair trimmings, your life stories. A lesson on living. A lesson on writing. I see Gabriela with her notecards and her long list as I work the notecards on the storyboard of my current novel.
Gabriela and the Widow is a lyrical treasure that paints a magical mysterious world of two women, so close they inhabit each other's dreams and relive each other's experiences. In doing so the Widow leaves a bit of herself behind when she passes and Gabriela enters womanhood regaining a life tragically interrupted in childhood as an innocent victim of the atrocities of war.
This is a beautiful, horrific, captivating read full of the lights and colors, the smells and music of southern Mexico and central California. The story held me to the screen and that says a lot. I have no doubt some of you will point out that reading off a computer is not the same as using an e-reader. You may even insist that I give Kindle a chance, certain I'll love it once I get used to it. Maybe so, but I'm not ready to make the jump to an e-reader just yet. I still want a signed paperback copy of Jack Remick's Gabriela and the Widow for my library.