In adolescence, we form very strong attachments to music, films or books that seem to speak to us. Such things can stick with us for life, and a rediscovery in middle age can be as evocative of youth as photographs or diaries. This story is about that rediscovery, about regret and missed opportunities. Ms. Rabinowitz writes in a subtle impressionistic style that perfectly complements the subject matter.
Flying back from Oxford to New Jersey, Cora joins her sister Julie in helping their parents relocate to a new home. When Cora stumbles upon an undiscovered, unopened letter addressed to her childhood self, she is flooded with memories and sensations concerning a collection of stories called The Scarlet Thread and the Amber Road. The letter it turns out, is a response to a note which Cora has left in the very book and returned to the library – almost like a message in a bottle. The message could be understood as Cora’s childhood self longing to share her experience of the stories with a kindred spirit. The story shifts from the first to the third person, scenes from her adult self are juxtaposed with moments from her childhood, the scenes overlapping with fragments vividly described from the collection of stories: A girl enters a house that is filled with sky, another girl is trapped in a bottle, a flower mysteriously starts to play music only to devour the little girl who has nurtured it to bloom, statues come to life during a moment of passion, cities exist where colors are banned, a train is filled with distorted bodies. There is a rich pattern of images and colors and sensations in this story.
Rosanne Rabinowitz’s finely detailed study of a woman’s search for a book she once picked up in the school library acknowledges the power of books as totems, somehow focusing a person’s entire worldview. The story within this story develops the idea of feelings or ideas transforming people’s lives –either for the better – a pearl, or for the worse – a boil. The story’s psychological depth allows the reader to appreciate the symbolic power of the book. A girl and boy encountered in a field of flowers, provides a sort of Arcadian vision for the story’s protagonist, towards which she strives. Flowers and plants are symbols of love but, later, in a different story within the story, another plant engulfs and digests the girl who tends it.
"There's an element of something almost fable like about this story, with the events described entirely empirical on the surface, but beneath that the hint of fact and fiction entangling in the manner of sympathetic magic." (Black Static #25 - TTA Press)
"And the warmth and final joy of "The Pearl and the Boil"?"
Any further reviews after 20 Jan 12 will appear in the comments below.
My own views: http://horroranthology.wordpress.com/editors-story-by-story-commentary/