A Thin Place by Kathryn Davis

Kathryn Davis’ A Thin Place was very hard for me to get into at first. I tried starting a few times when I was in places where there were plenty of distractions. Though normally I find it easy to concentrate in such conditions, I experienced something quite different in this case. It took a few quiet hours of solitude for me to finally hook into the rhythm of this novel. The story is about the complexity of human love, the relationships of humans to their physical world, and the beauty, sometimes seeming tragic, in the fact that living things are born and in turn, die. What interests me most about this book as a writer are the–what I’ll call–props that Davis uses to tell her story: the intercalary chapters, the diary entries, the police logs, and the horoscopes.
The occasional police logs give us a sense of the small town of Varenness with its reporting of things like loud music and cat missing and also subtly suggest, as some of the items like car crashes and drug deals are more serious, that perhaps we are leading up to something serious within the novel. The horoscopes reinforce the theme of man versus nature, on which topic, Davis seems to want to impress us with the idea that the divine right of human beings in the world is unlikely, even a dangerous idea that may eventually be our greatest flaw. Horoscopes suggest a kind of fate, that the stars (the natural world) are truly in control. This is reinforced again by the Gardner’s Almanac. But, what about the intercalary chapters? That is where I want to focus my thinking in this paper.
The intercalary chapters did not propel the plot forward. They were more poetic and experimental in style (one from the point of view of dogs, another from beavers). I enjoyed this book and can’t remember reading anything like it and a lot of that feeling comes from how the intercalary chapters added to the story. Those chapters tended to focus on the natural world, to show what was going on simultaneous, but no less important, to human affairs. As Davis concludes her first (erotic!) depiction of glaciers having their way with the world in her first intercalary chapter, “And even then, how beautiful! Rock cased in ice, the sun extracting greens and blues. Though to say everything was more beautiful without people, before people—even to go so far as to imagine after people—is obscene” (12), we know that there is far more to this story than the lives of the people in this small town, that this story has something to say about life and how we should be living it: as if we could die at any moment.
The idea I’ve come up with for National Novel Writing month will also attempt to use intercalary chapters to enhance the stories themes and develop character. This is a technique that I’ve often admired. Tom Robbins, one of my favorite writers, uses intercalary chapters, as does Steinbeck in The Grapes of Wrath, a book I love, love, love. Like Davis, I will experiment and employ a more poetic style in these chapters, but unlike Davis, they will all be centered around my primary character, who will narrate the entire story.

 

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