A Reader’s Log(orrhea) #6: Unmoored Confessions and Other Diversions: Micheline Aharonian Marcom’s The Daydreaming BoyBy John Madera
August 17, 2011
You’ll find decades-long repressed memories dislodged in Micheline Aharonian Marcom’s The Daydreaming Boy, where eyebright prose perfectly puts across a distressed narrator’s unrestrained thoughts. Orphaned in the midst of Turkey’s massacre of the Armenians, Vahé Tcheubjian—through descriptions of unfulfilling trysts, brutal flashbacks, disturbing dreams, bizarre encounters with a monkey at the zoo, and imagined conversations with the mother who abandoned him—confronts his denials and ultimately challenges his very identity. Mirrors are Vahé’s tools for examining his past and its resultant pain, but it is the warped reflections of funhouse mirrors that he ultimately sees: distortions abound: here one stretches, this one condenses, and still another magnifies.
I found the prose in The Daydreaming Boy to be the most affecting, psychosomatically, when read aloud and in as few sittings as possible, sweeping me, as a result, within its puzzling atmospheres, into its ebb and flow, its serpentine lines. The novel begins:
We are naked like Adam and the blue wide band now becomes what it is, the long sea rises before us, the notfish become what they too are, so that we see: water; white-capped waves stretching out into infinity; but not salt, warm, sad.
This sweeping introduction is echoed, mirrored in the book’s second part, where Marcom shifts the point-of-view, a device used throughout the narrative:
They are naked like Adam and they run to the sea’s edge. They say for shame and they drink the Mediterranean waters as if it were Christ’s blood and it does not quench and they gag, a gaggle of boys running for the sea and knowing only the waters of the interior…
Undercurrents of violence and eddying pain in The Daydreaming Boy disrupt such lyrically flowing passages, each jarring passage serving as punctuations, their very force puncturing the page; and then, as such, they become vehicles, of a kind, of entrancement:
Limning Vahé’s consciousness, Marcom reveals the way his past surfaces as a kind of phantasmagoric communication:
It is said by some that the dead are ever returning to us in an unending cycle of vengeance and despair. I press into my mind as if to find them there. It is green then blue and then rains. And they do come back to me, each one in his time.
The novel’s panoply of ghosts include the narrator’s imagined mother and father, the abovementioned monkey, and Vostanig: a man he tortured as a child when they lived as refugees in an orphanage: a deranged man who, as an adult, ends up walking into oncoming traffic one afternoon.
The narrative unfolds much like a confession, Vahé apparently receiving as much pleasure as he does pain from the revelation of his travails, his various infidelities, whatever number of betrayals. His, though, is neither an act of repentance, nor a journey toward redemption, but an act of release and revelation: confession as erotic stimulation and self-awareness. After revealing the abuse, including multiple rapes, he and others perpetrated against Vostanig in the orphanage, Vahé says:
Now that I remember it and it is sayable I can say it and the saying arouses me. And there are other things to say because of the necessity of their saying, first I can see them and then say them, or sometimes I first say and then see, say this: all war is deception as is all history.
Vahé attempts to trump all criticism of his confession by admitting his failure to remain objective, his inability to recognize his moral depravity, to accept responsibility, by continually changing his story. Sadly, this results in further psychological unraveling and a gnawing spiritual emptiness.
Faulkner is an obvious influence on The Daydreaming Boy, and Marcom transparently signals this influence with an epigraph from Absalom, Absalom! And the book itself later appears as a kind of spiritual guide for Vahé. His wife—who bought the masterwork as a kind of accoutrement, as a means of keeping appearances—inadvertently helped to define Vahé’s project, his quest. He finds the book lying
on a side table so he doesn’t think Perhaps there is something in one or that he will open the Gospel because he needs something and Maybe it’s in there because I don’t see it anywhere else and I’ve looked and perhaps it’s always been in there and walks to the bedroom not thinking picks up one of Juliana’s purchases on the way and reads: You cant know yet. You cannot know yet whether what you see is what you are looking at or what you are believing. Wait. Wait.
Vahé resolves to “see a true story so that he will know and when he knows it he will rest easy and Juliana will love him easy and all is well; wait—wait, he’ll do it.” Vahé describes the thing he wishes to release within him as
an awesome and tumultuous unfeathered and unflying bird pushing its wings against his chest, pushing down there and the pressure builds and the unflying bird pushes against his chest muscles and not pushing out but into his organs and creates there the heaviness, the need for something he cannot name, pushes not the reader to look even in the ascetic dessicated unelectrified fleshless place for it (but that is the only time he does it) and finds there the wait wait and he will. He looks at the sea now, the monster still inside the hollowed grieving bones and thinks: unbeknownst to me. And thinks as he has always thought, how it is better to seek it in the flesh and he continues seeking it this way, as he has always done…and he thinks to discard this wait wait and forgets about the ways of seeing and looking.
Vahé believes that once he shares with his wife, Juliana, the “unforbidden: the boy Vosto, the fledgling ape corpse, the shy and limps [sic?] servant girl” then the “bird” will finally break free from inside his chest and he will be free to love. But Vahé cannot be trusted—he is a champion of refusals: rather than admit his failures and ask for forgiveness he chooses to dance within clever vacillations and circuitous contradictions. Unwilling to take complete responsibility for his actions, Vahé says:
In sooth, on some days I would like to find the person responsible for this: this life, this man that I am and the life that I have subsequently lived and the life that I never lived because unable to—alone and not wretched always but yet always the wretch, the man made into something vile on some days, the man on his back, unmoving, the silent lost tongue, the absence of bones and her body to make it (the world) familiar: the man cast out in exile.
He need look no further than himself. But he refuses. In an elaborate meditation on truth, Vahé declares that “honesty is itself a false modesty and the lie is truer because we live by lies and propagate them as easily…” This might be a perfect illustration of the liar’s paradox. Despite this bald-faced and boldfaced, as it were, confession of his duplicity, Vahé can’t be trusted.
Vahé prefers to remain “unexisted and ubiquitous like the sea out of view from my balcony window.” Vahé’s empty refusals and denials, notwithstanding, Marcom’s beautifully rendered text exists and might be likened to a river, carving a valley through various shadows of death, making a way out of no way.
This is truly an excellent review and analysis.
Thanks, Jeffrey. I hope you’ll get a chance to read the book.
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