Tuesday, July 3, 2012
Review: The Mere Weight of Words
3.5 Stars - Recommended to readers who enjoy short fiction that reads like non-fiction and fans of phonetics
Publisher: Aqueous Books
Say what you mean (and be sure to pronounce it correctly).
The Mere Weight of Words - a novella whose very title is a twist in its own right on language and how we apply it - flows between the past and present as a young woman tries to come to terms with her estranged father's recent diagnosis and the uncomfortable emotions it triggers in her regarding her own physical condition.
Meredith - Mere for short - chose her nickname for its definition: of or relating to a trifle, an expendable good, or something easily used and quickly discarded. Obsessed with the sounds and meanings of words from a very young age, Mere butted heads with her father and his insistence that she devote herself to studying art.
She bled language. She was intrigued by its ferocious and tricky nature... by the weight her - and anyone else's - words could carry. She loved how she could manipulate any dialect and language; she longed to become a phonetician. Until she awoke one morning with a partially paralyzed face - an illness that, as it took away all feeling, also took away her fascination with words.
Carissa Halston writes in a voice that is so pure, that speaks so straight to the life of this woman Mere, that I constantly had to remind myself it was a work of fiction. That I wasn't reading the memoir of a hopeful phonetician who had the words ripped from her mouth by Bells Palsy. That this character was just that... a character.
Throughout the novella, Halston exposes us to these themes of physical and emotional paralysis - Mere and her facial paralysis; the discovery of her father's Alzheimer's; the fear of seeing and speaking to him again; the stirring up of old wounds and arguments...
Behind all of this, I couldn't help but feel completely inferior to Mere, and Carissa - her maker. My hold on the English language is slippery and temperamental at best, and here I am, reading about a woman who lives and breathes its very syntax.
An interesting, mutli-layered look at the world through the frightened eyes of a woman who stood to lose control of her words, and fought to make them count.