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Sunday, August 5, 2012

Cruelest Month by James Patrick Kelly -- Analysis

Summary: Nell, a corporate lawyer, left her daughter in a play area while Nell ran off to take of an emergency, but the daughter fell off a cliff. Nell asks if the father were to blame, and she ends up in a divorce. Now she has had spooky visitations from her dead daughter. Her tricycle appears in her mother’s bedroom, the daughter’s dolls on the living room couch, and her telephone rings with a message of absolution.

Analysis: What’s interesting are the main character and her reliability--not in any overt way but in small, subtle self-deceptive ways. First is that she is good at her job, high on the corporate ladder, knowledgeable of how flowers will be read in the company, and the president’s desire for keeping her around and concern for her health. Second her recounting of events seem largely sane and the reactions of the other characters seem indicate they agree (unless she conveniently leaves that out); however, the company president might indicate this might be in question, but in such a case, he might not have handled as he had.

The foremost self-deception, however, is her knowledge that she was the last to take care of her daughter, yet she asks her husband later if he were the last to have seen her. Next, she claims not like certain men--former husband and psychiatrist--but she also wishes they were still around after she rejects them. Massinger she rejected immediately for a relationship before he even initiated personal overtures. What and how we see Massinger, through her eyes, leads us to agree with her rejecting Massinger although it might give her exaggerated amount of pleasure to reject him. Nonetheless, she immediately calls him up when she needs a psychiatrist when trouble arises soon after. Later, she claims she’d seduced him first, but we don’t see that evidence. Did she suppress it? Or did she make that up to protect her interest in him? Either way, it’s self-deception.

Third, she’s doing something at work that’s undermining her progress to get the company president to talk her into a long vacation. Fourth, she claims Massinger’s furniture is “too slick and insincere,” which seems as likely a critique of Massinger as his furniture. Rather, he may be a little slick (although more likely clumsy in the bumbling way he handles her--creating personal connections when he ought not to and the bedroom) but otherwise too sincere, for he acts keenly interested in both his pursuit of her and his maintaining his client even when she’s soundly rejected him--in a manner that suggests she could sue him if she so desired. (Again, why did she willing enter into a relationship that she knew would violate his code of ethics?)

The case for this being a psychological ghost: The clear case of self-deception. Yet why? She wants to be absolved of her guilt. If her daughter’s ghost had returned, why would it be in the mother’s bedroom? It seems an unlikely place for a child to play (although children are curious about their parents’ things, it remains unlikely).

The case against: Is there evidence that she would try to make herself insane? Would she pull this mental game on herself? It seems unlikely. Yet she is undermining her own work on the job, and she does go out with Massinger even when she suspects it will not be her thing. However, are these evidences any different from what many sane women might do?

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