Sunday, March 10, 2019

having just read “Little”

I am tucked in the world, into the smaller parts of it. I do not impose myself in any grandiose way.
Anne Marie Grosholtz, who comes to be known as “Little” in Edward Carey’s novel of the same name, is our narrator in this tale of her life, and she says this bit about being “tucked in the world” well into her story, a story in which she is, for the most part, a person indeed tucked away by the world, out of sight, shucked into the kitchen, the scullery, put into a closet with a dirty bit of straw for a bed, a dark cupboard at Versailles, often told to make herself scarce, to bow and to curtsy, to do her work and to do nothing else, told she has no life but that which pleases others, so please me, Little, that is your life, that is your job, and then go away, back to your cupboard, your nook, your cranny, and it is, after all, a life, no matter where slept, where dusted, where drawn, perceived, judged by others, by the world. Little becomes, in the end, as in real life, rather large, as she is Madame Tussaud, of wax museum fame, and Carey’s fictional account of Madame Tussaud, focused on this imagining of her mostly early years, is told in a style that is at once grandiose and humble, like Marie, worthy of Marie, I would say, as it wraps itself around history, people, wax, drawings—sketches and bits and portraits pulled from Little’s own sketchbook—with Marie at near every opportunity asking those whom she serves if she will be paid for all this work she is doing, when will she be paid, for all this work she has done, and of course—I will be paid now?

I had put off reading “Little,” which was published last year. I knew it was a fiction, a retelling, a re-imagining of sorts, of Madame Tussaud’s life. Having my own fresh image of her, I was not ready to let in someone else’s take. I did not want someone else’s jive intruding on mine. Then I reached the point in this wax book I am writing where it is about Madame Tussaud, and I felt, to be current, I must read “Little.”

I was not familiar with Carey’s work and nothing I had read about “Little” led me to believe that as soon as I opened the book I would be enamored. I tend to be a library book reader, or a secondhand book reader—seldom do I buy a book within a few months of its publication—but as I put my name on the wait list for a copy from the library, I headed over to Snowbound Books to take a peek. A secondary title page lured me in

and the next page’s announcement of illustrations—“In graphite, charcoal, and black chalk.”—sold me. As did these illustrations as I flipped through the book.

I bought the book. I read the book. I underlined passages.
Of wax and its subtle talents, they were entirely ignorant. They never properly comprehended the dignity and sadness of a stick of candle.
The book is a fine raveling of a story. I see Madame Tussaud as someone who is easily conceived as make-believe, even though her story, her reality, has never been hidden. Still, what we know of her, the facts of her, leave some room for the imagination, and the facts of her themselves, what Marie Grosholtz lived through, the French Revolution, and what she created, the wax figures, are a kind of fodder for the imagination. “Wax is skin,” according to Carey’s fictional Philip Curtius, and, later, Marie tells us
Wax, also, is privacy. Wax seals letters. Wax keeps all the world’s words where they should be, until the right hands come to let them out.
I must admit, another reason I kind of dragged myself to “Little” was its cover, which is awash in a hue, some shade of red, which I can’t quite name but which I surely don’t like. I also did not like the title (to me, Madame Tussaud loomed large and here was a book proclaiming her “little,” which in height she was, but still.) And, then, too, the typeface on the cover I did not like. I’m glad I got beyond that, cracked the book open, peeked inside the cupboard, found where the wonder lies.
Wax was ever the most honest of substances.
Now I can get back to the Madame Tussaud chapter of “A (relatively) Short History of Wax,” the recently rechristened working title of my book, the book which will always be in draft even if at some point I do print it, which I’m sure I will. Its attendant subtitle:

In which a search for truth leads to
nuns and gunslingers,
bees and whales,
candles and chemists,
mummies and smugglers,
shysters and soy nuts,
Dickens and Ahab,
the French Revolution,
Hollywood horror flicks,
a flicker of truth,
and then,
Einstein’s head.

is another reason I was happy to see that second title page in “Little,” as it bolstered my inclination to use words, as many as I like, wherever I like, which is surely a mistake at times, but. Like wax, words can often be thrown back in the pot, melted down, used anew, reformed.

So thank you, Edward Carey, for “Little.”

Wax sparrow.
As it continues to snow despite enough snow in the banks to last us,
conservatively, I would guess, through August.

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