This was voted as the #14 tale of the 21st century. Nominated for the Hugo and the Nebula, it won the World Fantasy. What endears it to or makes it linger in the minds of readers ten year later?
The story deals with a boy interested in creation of life, from Sunday school to the back woods where he tries to create his own being, a man made of sticks. The boy feels some guilt about and responsibility toward his creation. Part of its charm is the father's almost indifferent willingness to roll with his boy's imagination--even if he is largely antagonistic to what he would call superstition. The boy's earnestness about how he goes about his creation is both endearing and spot on, this coming from a former boy with similar imaginative persuasions.
This could be read as a story paralleling Frankenstein, the imagination required for writing, or even a view of the supernatural. Key moments:
"I learned about Creation from Mrs. Grimm, in the basement of her house."Suggestive of Brothers Grimm, or fairy tales...if a darker aspect yet...
"a can that endlessly poured golden beer into a pilsner glass that never seemed to overflow."...it has humorous aspects. Suggests the magic of the speculative genre--whether real or not (see ending)
"She had the nose of a witch."
Paradox: Things of one aspect yet she teaches the Bible.
"After God had made the world, he made them too, because he had so much love an not enough places to put it."This later comes to fill the narrator's mouth when asked why he created it.
"Throughout all of this he never lost the cigarette in the corner of his mouth and only put it out in order to hug the girl and quiet her from crying."The father proves himself irreverent in church, but later a hero. The cigarette though is a magic talisman as it paradoxically brings life through the burning of dead things.
"I gave him a weapon to hunt with; a long pointed stick that was my exact height."The woods, that the narrator does his magic in, are rumored to be filled with urban-legend magic. Interesting that he chooses the weapon of his height. Is the creator the target?
"I whispered to him all of the questions Mrs. Grimm would ever ask [from the catechism book]."Reading from the most sacred book of magic the boy knows. Asking about hell (scenes from hell decorate the catechism book--another paradox) seems portentous for the creature's eye falls off. Paradoxically a humorous yet solemn moment.
"[A] capped, cleaned out baby food jar.... was filled with breath. I had asked my father to blow into it."The father doesn't even look up from his gambling or racing forms when he fulfills this step on his son's magic quest. He mumbles, "Don't say I never gave you anything." Paradoxically, what the father does is negligent yet full of love. What the father does humorously, the boy accepts reverently and holds the glass to a light bulb to see the magic there:
"The spirit swirled within and then slowly became invisible."Smoke becomes spirit and invisible--two magical properties.
The mother sings "Until the Real Thing Comes Along" and the boy's sure his mother can feel his guilt for leaving his catechism book out there, getting him in trouble when he can't remember the answer to a key question:
"Why did God make? ...that's one of the easiest ones."The narrator imagines his tree man's life in daydreams (or mind camera?) so that it feels/is real. When the narrator wants to find Cavannaugh, the creature, the father obliges, indulges the boy's dream. Finally, he encounters his creation.
"Why?"When he asks his dad, the dad says,
I didn't know why, and wished I had read him the book's answers instead of the questions the day of his birth.... [Recalls beer sign which triggers...] "I had too much love."
[The dad] stared hard without a smile, directly into my eyes. "I don't know what the hell you're talking about," he said and exhaled a long, blue-gray stream of life.Smoke is still equated with life. The creation may or may not have occurred, but the son still believes in the magic of it.