A man in my office spoke of chasing squirrels and laughed. Prone to using comic metaphors, he explained the link to his current life circumstances. The squirrels represent lost causes, things we cannot change—but also the things we shouldn’t try to change. Let things go. Let nature be nature.
I reflected for a moment, struck by the synchronicity. See, this was yesterday, the day before my plan to write this entry, an introduction to my new novel, entitled Blended. Among other things, the first chapter begins with a brief rumination upon—you guessed it—squirrels. In my story, squirrels are also metaphors. They are likewise out of control, symbolic of the wild, yet they mirror humanity, for they are greedy, compulsive, hierarchical, and frail. They dart about our properties, seizing the unseen territories, taking what they can get, but trailing more elegant creatures, like hummingbirds, in the hearts of genteel homeowners. If squirrels care or have boundaries, as in rules, it’s not apparent. They are strong and quick, yet they do not make good choices. They seem blind and reckless, so they keep dying unpleasantly on man’s roads.
Allusively set in 2016, Blended is otherwise about a middle-aged woman, a mother of three, a step-mom to another three, who begins the story roaming the garden of her Oregonian home, picking fights with troublesome thorns, committed to aesthetics. Tillie Marsden observes the critters but she does not fuss over them. She makes better choices, jogs instead of dashing, and prepares for earthquakes and political fallout. She is likely based (because I don’t remember this specifically) on a character in a Geico insurance commercial. You know, the one with the woman who sits by a pool, calling her action star son at the wrong time (‘You’re a mom, it’s what you do’), and casually mocking his father for chasing squirrels, which appear swarm-like in the background. My character isn’t quite as blasé as that, and her husband, her third, isn’t actually obsessed with squirrels. But the point is that something is lurking in society and nature. Despite a comfortable, as in financially settled and peaceful suburban existence, Tillie feels a stirring unease. She needs to do something.
Family and career are twin poles of struggle and unfinished business, but it’s a new endeavor that’s catalytic for Tillie, and therefore the plot of Blended. An involved church-goer, she volunteers at a refugee support program, is assigned to a young Pakistani family that has recently moved to her town, a fictional Eugene-like community named Bishop Grove. Back in her teens, she’d once hosted an Iranian student for a semester. Bad antecedent. Tillie’s long-widowed mother, a stoic conservative of the American Gothic variety, was barely tolerant of that adolescent fancy, so the world citizen spirit was blunted. This latter-day charity is a do-over of sorts. It’s a resurrection of old aptitudes, promising satisfaction, not to mention distraction from autocratic bosses and drudgery. It’s a vacation from dense family drama, a chance to feel useful and recognized as a caring figure. It’s also one woman’s thumb-on-the-nose prep for Trump’s America.
I recently heard Salman Rushdie lament that there are too many books in print today; that the world’s writers could just stop writing and there would be plenty of titles for everyone to read for many years to come. That’s probably true. Over 300,000 books are published, traditionally and not, every year, in the U.S alone. Rushdie therefore opines that today’s writers should ask themselves an important question: not, is my book good, or entertaining? But rather, is it necessary? Is it a worthwhile addition to that already huge mountain of print?
Is Blended a worthwhile addition?