Essay, Research Paper: Rattlebone By Clair


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“A novel or a collection of short stories?” may be a question that a critic
asks about Rattlebone. Maxine Clair portrays both arguments with her energetic
writing style. A blend of random comments and many unique phrases intermix with
the intense plot. Writing like this gives the reader a more relaxed state and
the book seems more alive and real. In answer to the critique question, Maxine
Clair is writing a novel because of an abundant supply of foreshadowing, a
collection of narrators, a recurrence of characters, and a process commonly
known to man as aging. Suggesting that Rattlebone is in fact a novel,
foreshadowing occurred in several places during the book. Clair uses this
writing method by mentioning the name October Brown, partly because Brown is
involved at the beginning and towards the end of the book. Ms. Brown became an
important part of Irene’s life, not only by being one of the main reasons for
her parents’ divorce, but also by helping Irene accomplish one of her goals.
The time that occurred between these two events in the book connects Rattlebone
and is a very good use of foreshadowing. Another example of Clair’s use of
this writing method is the experience of the divorce between Irene’s parents.
This long-term process displayed Irene’s parents as being unforgiving. At
first his wife forgives James Wilson for the affair that he enjoyed with October
Brown, but after a period of time, Pearl also had her share of the fall in their
relationship. At this time, neither one of Irene’s parents would forgive the
other nor make up with the other. This example again shows the use of
foreshadowing by Clair by evolving the event over several chapters with
different narrators. Irene, the narrator in several different stages of the
divorce between her parents, speaks her feelings of disgust and always tries to
keep her parents’ relationship together. Another side of the story comes from
October Brown’s landlord, Mrs. Pemberton. Mrs. Pemberton wants nothing to do
with the affair and therefor tries to separate the two lovers. Irene takes the
stage again and reveals to the reader subconsciously, that her father is the man
having the affair. The use of two narrators, each having a different look at the
situation, may seem confusing to the reader at first, but once the chapters are
all read and the whole story gets across, it becomes apparent why the change in
narration was necessary. Having different characters narrate is uncommon in a
novel, but by having the characters reoccur in a book is not. There is a set
limit of characters in Rattlebone; Clair just reveals some at key points
throughout the story. An example of this is during October Brown’s stay with
the Pemberton’s, in which Irene is not even mentioned; yet in the next chapter
she is narrating. October Brown then returns to the book during the end when
Irene is applying for scholarship. Wanda is another character that comes and
goes, and yet still has a strong impact on the story. She is first a good friend
of Irene’s, and later she returns to the pages in the book as the neighbor to
Mr. Pemberton, who eventually has a relationship with him. Perhaps the most
outstanding reason to claim that Rattlebone is a novel instead of a collection
of short stories is the fact of aging amongst the characters. By the characters
aging, Clair’s writing takes one form and one time frame. The recurrence of
these characters displays a sense of a time gap. Another instance in which a
time change is shown is with the relationships of Irene. In her early days of
relationships with boys, Irene was afraid to try any sexual acts of any kind.
But, oddly enough, after witnessing a sexual scene of her mother and a man
different from her father, Irene tended to want to rebel more. Over time, Irene
taught herself to waste her time and she soon found a boyfriend, which lead to
sexual acts. This boyfriend of Irene’s is also a good way to show the aging
process involved in Rattlebone. These two characters experience many things in
their relationship and over time the people of the town, including Irene’s
mother, heard of the relationship and all disapproved. The point to notice here
is that a town would not find out about a high school relationship that quickly,
especially since Irene was hiding the relationship as a whole. Another great way
to notice the time difference is to watch Irene’s attendance at various
schools. At first, October Brown is her schoolteacher and towards the end of the
book, Irene is applying to receive a scholarship to attend college and become a
member of a sorority. Finally another example of this occurs as Wanda and Mr.
Pemberton begin a relationship. Wanda, an old friend of Irene’s has grown up,
and now her neighbor takes quite a liking to her. Growing up takes more than a
minute or two, so this example acknowledges the aging process in this book. As
all of these collections are compiled, one story stands tall. The life of the
citizens of Rattlebone as a whole became eminent. The foreshadowing is apart of
any novel, and does not escape from Clair’s writing. It enables the novel to
be one story, not a collection of several stories. Sure, there is definitely a
collection of short stories in Rattlebone, but they all connect together like a
jigsaw puzzle to be completed. Without all of the pieces, this novel would not
be complete. The change in narration is a unique quality to Maxine Clair’s
work. This writing method gives a different perspective than just Irene’s
account. Recurring characters play a strong part in Rattlebone being a novel as
well. If different characters are in use in every chapter, than there is not a
strong enough link between all of them and they do not fit into the puzzle.
Since the characters appear in more than one chapter, the chapters fit together
nicely. Finally, Rattlebone is a novel because of how the characters aged
throughout the novel. If the characters do not age throughout a book, then it is
safe to assume that the book is a compilation of short stories. But this is not
the case in Rattlebone. The characters do experience age, experience change, and
experience life together. Maxine Clair wrote this novel, Rattlebone to let a
reader enjoy the life of this small town without knowing the future. She reveals
just a piece of it at a time, and until that last piece makes it into the
puzzle, no one can decipher it. Rattlebone is definitely a novel, exhibiting all
the qualities, not of a compilation of short stories, but of a novel.
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