I’ve been looking forward to reading Jenny Boully’s new work, not merely because of the unknown that was stalking toward them (Tarpulin Sky Press) for a while now. From Barthelme’s Snow White to Alan Moore’s and Melinda Gebbie’s uber-erotic Lost Girls to–wait for it, wait for it–ABC’s new Once Upon A Time, I’ve always been fascinated to see who pulls what out of or puts what into children’s stories and fairy tales.
Boully’s work gives an in-depth look into J.M. Barrie’s characters in Peter and Wendy, as well as the narrative itself, what surrounds this narrative and the psychology weaved within it. The research that Boully put into this work is an art unto itself; reading a number of other books both about and by Barrie, she was able to recognize meaning in the smallest details of Barrie’s original work. I found out how little I actually knew about Smee and Tootles and Wendy’s pet wolf (I constantly had to look up characters and happenings to follow stalking, which could be a pro or a con) while reading this text.
The page itself is divided into two parts, horizontally. The upper half of the page appears to be the titled work itself, and the lower half is subtitled: The Home Underground, which we will discuss later. In it’s entirety, Boully presents us with a song to lost love, to aging, to death and to forgetting. Boully realizes in her work the thoughts and memories of Wendy as an “elegant lady of uncertain age” (italics the author’s), a woman who cannot forget her first true love, who cannot–even though “there was another boy sleeping in the bed(1)”–let go of the memory of Peter; much like, we can assume by Boully’s allusions, her mother Mrs. Darling cannot forget Peter. Boully also wends through the minds of Hook and of Peter himself, giving many of the characters a much more human appeal through their confessions and laments.
Boully uses a spoken repetition and an altered punctuation in her writing, which gives the text–in the beginning–a thoughtfulness and, at times, a sense of dire urgency, the urgency of those losing something: love, youth. “And in her diaries, she’ll write that she had never really loved anyone. Else” (6). The frequency of this practice, though, began to slow up my reading and the natural rhythm of imagining an internalized mind, Wendy’s, Hook’s, they all held the same narrative voice. “The wayward thing, the wayward thing is not…”, “And dear Wendy, dear Wendy, who gathers…” and, “… you will know that one day, one day you will sleep and sleep and never wake, and he will go on.” All of the above were on page four of the text.
That is not saying that this work is not without absolutely gorgeous prose: “When he stabs his hook into you, you will see that his eyes are the blue of forget-me-nots–but that is Hook and not Peter–Peter who will forget you, whose eyes are the color of vague memories, the color not of sky, but rather the semblance of sky, the color of brittle-mindedness, of corpse dressings, of forgetting”(1). And: “The dawn now, all the color of yams of carrots of radishes of rhubarb of beets” (24). And, in this instance, the essayist-meets-poet works wonderfully: “For lovers, the past tense may signify a corrosion of both language and time. For the lost boys it signifies only a new item washed up on the seashore and that they had forgotten, they think, to eat” (13). In the end though, the repetitiveness of the themes and the use of language seem to eclipse the beauty of the prose.
The Home Underground follows the text on the page above it, explores it logically, scientifically, using biology, philosophy and psychology to explain or justify the goings-on above or the emotions or wonder held therein. The language and narration of this section carries with it the same tone, punctuation, repetition and even voice of the main text, which doesn’t seem, in my estimation, to warrant the aesthetic separation on the page.
All-in-all, Boully took on quite a project. She wandered into the realm of childhood stories and imaginings and added to her research both poetry and the seeking reality of psychology. An academic studying Peter Pan or Barrie, Dr. Kiley’s Peter Pan Syndrome or Jung’s Puer aeternus could use this work as an incredible stage on which to play out their theories. The critical reading won out over the poetry, as well as the storytelling in this work, but it kept my attention and, as aforementioned, the research here was really quite impressive.