July 29th 2012, By Ellen
I believe that the most important part of a novella is the author’s choice of words. It is particularly important in a small work where each chapter is independent from the next and the writer therefore cannot rely on just the story to impart their meaning. But, In How a Moth Becomes a Boat, Rowe nails it.
Her prose is lyrical, descriptive and never overdone. Her writing very rarely feels affected, like so many descriptive works do; almost everything seems as though it has a point, and is beautiful in its purpose. With each of the twelve or so stories being only a couple of pages long, the collection doesn’t take long to read. I found myself drawn back to the book after I had finished, re-reading sections several times over.
What Rowe seems to do is capture that perfect moment in a person’s life, the one that makes you understand someone on the deepest level but still leaves you wanting to learn more. But then you remember that she hasn’t simply captured a perfect moment; she has created a perfect moment. In her collection she has created these moments over and again, to give you a book that makes you think deeply about each person, about what happened before this moment and what will happen after.
She made me wonder about the miniscule parts of ourselves that we give up for love, and whether or not it is worth it. She made me think about the relationship between a father who, with frank honesty, is unable to cope with society, and the adult daughter who understands him. She made me feel forgotten trauma, complicated love, dysfunctional families and middle-aged retrospection. When I read the title story, my smile steadily grew until the last paragraph when my face froze and the sadness of the story leapt out from behind the camouflage of the words. To produce such a physical reaction through words is powerful, to say the least.
In the same way that micro-fiction can be so poignant because of what is left unsaid, Rowe’s ability to capture ideas in the smallest moments makes you think beyond the words, and about how her stories might reflect your own experiences. In this way the fact that some of her stories didn’t resonate with me is not a discredit, but rather another mark of the artistic prowess of her novella. The stories are so varied that they explored a broad spectrum of life’s emotions – not all of which I could relate to at the time – which, to me, gave the book more authority than if it had just struck a chord with my current obsessions. After putting the book down I felt that in a year’s time I could re-read it and find that different stories now meant something new to me; that the book was more than could be experienced in one sitting.
How a Moth Becomes a Boat is a book that says a lot with a little. It is succinct, beautiful, and lingering.
Written by Ellen
Pretends to be an author until the day she is. She abhors a vacuum, but loves the Far Side, and finds navigating by the sun to be an easier alternative to her GPS. At least the sun doesn't try to make her do U-turns on a freeway.
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