‘Slipping Reality’ plumbs effects of loneliness in novel form

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Slipping Reality by Emily Beaver, Author House, 2011, ISBN 978-1-4634-2714-6, Price Unlisted.

By Donald H. Harrison

Donald H. Harrison

SAN DIEGO — Not since reading such Stefan Zweig short stories as “The Royal Game” and “Letters from an Unknown Woman,” have I encountered  such a thoroughly intriguing examination of the possible effects loneliness can have on the human soul as has been conjured by teen-aged author Emily Beaver  in this tormented, yet beautiful, and at times funny, first novel.

Beaver’s alter-ego, Katelyn, was as lonely as a young teen-ager can get.  Her older brother, Matthew, was dying after an exhausting three-year battle against cancer.  Her parents, understandably, were preoccupied with care-giving for Matthew.  Peers at school couldn’t possibly understand the pain Katelyn felt– Matthew had always been her best friend.  Their school-day cares seemed trivial to her.  Only one person could come close to comprehending her, Lauren, but there was an awkwardness between these two friends, possibly because of Lauren’s own unresolved feelings toward Matthew.

Where to go?  To whom to confide?  Neither of the routine venues of her life — school, synagogue– offered possibilities that sufficed.  So Katelyn’s brain provided an answer, an answer that came unbidden to her conscious mind but which sprung Athena-like from her subconscious.  She imagined two new friends, both male: Tristan, a bit younger than her father, and his adopted son Cedric, a boy of her brother’s age. Both are caring, sensitive, and attuned to her moods.  In different ways, they help her cope with her brother’s impending death. Tristan, as his name implies, is a sad, knowing, older presence, who has lived through the pain of his wife Diana’s death, though he has never fully recovered from the loss of this princess-like figure.  Cedric is a non-threatening, chaste, entertaining, romantic interest, who represents an abstract almost as frightening to 14-year-old Katelyn as death, and that is unknown love.

But rather than being like a little girl who unquestioningly accepts her imaginary friends, Katelyn questions, often amusingly,  these creations from her sub-conscious. If they were totally from her imagination, how could they have come with fully-shaped biographies involving experiences and places unknown to her?  Were these new friends harbingers of insanity?  How was it they could come to her mind seemingly on their independent volition and not always when she summoned them?   Sometimes they ignored her, what right did they have to do that?  And were their feelings hurt when she was rude to them?

Reading this book tended to confirm one of my beliefs.  I think that genius — that of Katelyn and of her author — is shaped when a mind limits the numbers of its stimuli, so it can concentrate on one or just a few.  Children who have too many toys fully appreciate none of them; they are too busy jumping from one to the other.  Children with just one toy use their imaginations to create and re-create it in new and unusual configurations.  A simple box can be turned into a fort, a throne, a hiding place, a treasure chest.  A blank piece of paper can be turned into a story, a confession, a place to log dreams, a reminder list, an airplane or origami.

Loneliness also can be salutary.  Children who have many friends and activities often lack the time to think deeply about either.  They flit from one relationship to another, one activity to another, with none ever making a deep impression on them, or vice versa. Children who allow themselves to be alone can read, think, imagine, write, and create.

The author’s  brother, Matthew, died of cancer and the novel was dedicated to him.  Inevitably the question arises, how much of the book was a record of Emily Beaver’s own experiences, and how much was the gift of her imagination?  To those who are within the author’s personal orbit–her family, friends, and even school mates–this is an important question, and in an afterword, Beaver provides some of the answers.

To the general reading public, however, this question is less important.  Characters, once committed to fiction, deserve lives of their own.   Katelyn, whose reality slipped, now is an independent persona, even as was  Alice, whose wonder took her to a new realm.

*
Harrison is editor of San Diego Jewish World. He may be contacted at [email protected]

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