Pieces of a Novel Puzzle
‘A novel or a collection of short stories?’; may be a question that a critic asks about Rattlebone. Maxine Clair portrays both arguments with her energetic writing style. A blend of random comments and many unique phrases intermix with the intense plot. Writing like this gives the reader a more relaxed state and the book seems more alive and real. In answer to the critique question, Maxine Clair is writing a novel because of an abundant supply of foreshadowing, a collection of narrators, a recurrence of characters, and a process commonly known to man as aging.
Suggesting that Rattlebone is in fact a novel, foreshadowing occurred in several places during the book. Clair uses this writing method by mentioning the name October Brown, partly because Brown is involved at the beginning and towards the end of the book. Ms. Brown became an important part of Irene’s life, not only by being one of the main reasons for her parents’ divorce, but also by helping Irene accomplish one of her goals. The time that occurred between these two events in the book connects Rattlebone and is a very good use of foreshadowing. Another example of Clair’s use of this writing method is the experience of the divorce between Irene’s parents. This long-term process displayed Irene’s parents as being unforgiving. At first his wife forgives James Wilson for the affair that he enjoyed with October Brown, but after a period of time, Pearl also had her share of the fall in their relationship. At this time, neither one of Irene’s parents would forgive the other nor make up with the other. This example again shows the use of foreshadowing by Clair by evolving the event over several chapters with different narrators.
Irene, the narrator in several different stages of the divorce between her parents, speaks her feelings of disgust and always tries to keep her parents’ relationship together. Another side of the story comes from October Brown’s landlord, Mrs. Pemberton. Mrs. Pemberton wants nothing to do with the affair and therefor tries to separate the two lovers. Irene takes the stage again and reveals to the reader subconsciously, that her father is the man having the affair. The use of two narrators, each having a different look at the situation, may seem confusing to the reader at first, but once the chapters are all read and the whole story gets across, it becomes apparent why the change in narration was necessary.
Having different characters narrate is uncommon in a novel, but by having the characters reoccur in a book is not. There is a set limit of characters in Rattlebone; Clair just reveals some at key points throughout the story. An example of this is during October Brown’s stay with the Pemberton’s, in which Irene is not even mentioned; yet in the next chapter she is narrating. October Brown then returns to the book during the end when Irene is applying for scholarship. Wanda is another character that comes and goes, and yet still has a strong impact on the story. She is first a good friend of Irene’s, and later she returns to the pages in the book as the neighbor to Mr. Pemberton, who eventually has a relationship with him.
Perhaps the most outstanding reason to claim that Rattlebone is a novel instead of a collection of short stories is the fact of aging amongst the characters. By the characters aging, Clair’s writing takes one form and one time frame. The recurrence of these characters displays a sense of a time gap. Another instance in which a time change is shown is with the relationships of Irene. In her early days of relationships with boys, Irene was afraid to try any sexual acts of any kind. But, oddly enough, after witnessing a sexual scene of her mother and a man different from her father, Irene tended to want to rebel more. Over time, Irene taught herself to waste her time and she soon found a boyfriend, which lead to sexual acts. This boyfriend of Irene’s is also a good way to show the aging process involved in Rattlebone. These two characters experience many things in their relationship and over time the people of the town, including Irene’s mother, heard of the relationship and all disapproved. The point to notice here is that a town would not find out about a high school relationship that quickly, especially since Irene was hiding the relationship as a whole. Another great way to notice the time difference is to watch Irene’s attendance at various schools. At first, October Brown is her schoolteacher and towards the end of the book, Irene is applying to receive a scholarship to attend college and become a member of a sorority. Finally another example of this occurs as Wanda and Mr. Pemberton begin a relationship. Wanda, an old friend of Irene’s has grown up, and now her neighbor takes quite a liking to her. Growing up takes more than a minute or two, so this example acknowledges the aging process in this book.
As all of these collections are compiled, one story stands tall. The life of the citizens of Rattlebone as a whole became eminent. The foreshadowing is apart of any novel, and does not escape from Clair’s writing. It enables the novel to be one story, not a collection of several stories. Sure, there is definitely a collection of short stories in Rattlebone, but they all connect together like a jigsaw puzzle to be completed. Without all of the pieces, this novel would not be complete. The change in narration is a unique quality to Maxine Clair’s work. This writing method gives a different perspective than just Irene’s account. Recurring characters play a strong part in Rattlebone being a novel as well. If different characters are in use in every chapter, than there is not a strong enough link between all of them and they do not fit into the puzzle. Since the characters appear in more than one chapter, the chapters fit together nicely. Finally, Rattlebone is a novel because of how the characters aged throughout the novel. If the characters do not age throughout a book, then it is safe to assume that the book is a compilation of short stories. But this is not the case in Rattlebone. The characters do experience age, experience change, and experience life together. Maxine Clair wrote this novel, Rattlebone to let a reader enjoy the life of this small town without knowing the future. She reveals just a piece of it at a time, and until that last piece makes it into the puzzle, no one can decipher it. Rattlebone is definitely a novel, exhibiting all the qualities, not of a compilation of short stories, but of a novel.