Friday, October 31, 2008

Friday Fiction Fix: "The Boy Who Had Never Seen the Sea"

In the October 27 issue of The New Yorker, the fiction selection by author Jean-Marie Gustave (J.M.G.) Le Clezio personifies the sea in a way somewhat similar to the way Chiefs Head Coach Herman Edwards does to the NFL shield. Daniel, the protagonist, possesses very limited social skills and speaks of the sea as if it were the holy grail. Today, in this House of Georges, Daniel is Edwards; the sea is the shield. More on that in a minute.

Since Le Clezio's heritage is French/British, I should technically hate him. Given that he occasionally resides in Albuquerque, I should really hate him. Unlucky for me: he's a great writer and the winner of this year's Nobel Prize in Literature. His extensive anthology, as it were, has won numerous awards, and many of them have been translated (36 different languages) from French to English. This piece was done so by the magazine's Fiction Editor Deborah Treisman.

There are other articles in this piece that resemble something else, and I'll explain as we go, but I must first flesh something out. The shield is the symbol of the National Football League, and it represents the highest form of American football in the world. Guys grow up dreaming of one day playing in it, and yearning for a championship. Other, less physically gifted guys grow up dreaming of one day seeing their team win a championship, much like my now-invisible colleagues did two times in a row 10 years ago. The point is that the shield is the Lombardi trophy, and vice versa. Keep that in mind.

"He was called Daniel,

but he would have liked to be called Sinbad,

because he had read about Sinbad's adventures in the big red leather-bound book he always carried with him...

...He never joined the conversations of others, unless the discussion involved the sea...But this boy, Daniel -- it was as if he belonged to another race...It was as if he were sleeping with his eyes open.

Even when we talked about the sea, the conversation didn't interest him for long. He'd listen for a moment, ask a question or two, then realize that we were talking not about the sea but about swimming or deep-sea fishing, about beaches or sunbathing...That wasn't the sea he wanted to hear about.

He was interested in a different sea -- we didn't know which one, but a different one...

...He left in the early days of winter...We said only, 'Hey! Daniel is gone!,' without being really surprised, because after all we must have suspected this might happen.

None of us said anything else, because no one wanted him to be found and brought back."

Le Clezio then uses the interesting technique of switching settings and (sort of) narrative voice.

"Surely it was night when Daniel arrived, on board a freight train that had been travelling day and night for a long time...

...The sea! The sea! Daniel thought, but he didn't dare say it aloud...To himself, Daniel repeated the lovely word over and over. The sea, the sea, the sea...His head was full of noise and vertigo. He wanted to speak, to shout, even, but his throat would not allow his voice to pass."

And Kansas City Chiefs fans thought:

"The sea was far, at the other end of the field...It shone in the light, its color and appearance changing...Daniel didn't realize how far it was."

"But Daniel was not afraid...He had thought of this moment so many times, had so often imagined the day when he would finally see it,

not in a photograph or in a movie but in reality, the sea itself, enormous, exposed...He had longed for this moment with such intensity that he was suddenly weak, as if he were about to die, or at least fall asleep."

Daniel, having taken up his new residence, makes a home for himself.

"Then he went farther out, all the way to the end of the field...Because that was where his octopus friend lived.

Daniel had known the octopus since he arrived at the sea, had met it even before he knew the seabirds

and the anemones...

...'Hello, Wyatt,' Daniel said. The octopus was called Wyatt, though of course it did not know its name. Daniel spoke to it in a low voice, so as not to scare it. He asked it questions about what happened at the bottom of the sea, what one could see from beneath the waves. Wyatt didn't answer..."

Le Clezio's story about Daniel is a strange, compelling tale. What becomes of Daniel remains to be discovered.

"For us here, far from the sea, everything was both impossible and easy. All we knew was that something strange had happened.

It was strange because there was an illogical aspect to it that contradicted what the serious people were telling us...perhaps it was just the dream that began, quite simply, one morning, when we opened our eyes..."

Many of J.M.G. Le Clezio's books can be purchased here.