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In Slow Emergencies, linguistic and structural sophistication is a canvas for the unfolding of timeless conflicts - between divine gifts and mortals, and between favoured mortals and society. Lin, the heroine of this book, does not choose. She is chosen. The novel presents a protagonist who, after much struggle to remain "normal" and to conform to the diktats of society, surrenders to her beckoning destiny. This is the thematic backbone of Slow Emergencies: we do not choose art - it chooses us. Fighting the honour of the gods is lethal. The only way to survive is to heed the calling. However, neither is there any quixotic notion of a blissful surrender into a joyous dance with the muses. Giving birth to Art (hence, all the conception and birth metaphors) is an agonizing process. The chosen ones are haunted, tormented with burning pain which drives them to the point of insanity, insists on claiming the body, reorganizes its cells and opens them up to the seeds of divine inspiration. Yes, Lin does make a choice, but not between career and family. She chooses life over death.
This book analyzes the effects of such a choice without apologizing for it. The society at large does not understand artists. It cannot, for they are different beings - half human, half divine messengers. Thus, once Lin escapes her suffocating normalcy, the spotlight of the book shifts away from her. Hence we are focused on her all-too-human abandoned family in Small Town, USA. We glimpse the great artist in sporadic tortured-blissful flashes. Humanity exists on the periphery of Inspiration. It is awed, dazzled and frightened by the distant, unfamiliar landscapes of Art. Except this artist happens to be a woman. And when the artist is a woman, humanity also condemns: "in these postfeminist times, it's a daring choice to write with tenderness about a woman who abandons her babies for her art." Was the critic reproaching the writer or the protagonist?
Nancy Huston's prose is subtle, elegant and has long been lauded and revered in Europe. Finally, she is being "discovered" here. Tolstoy, once penned the following in his journal, it is very apropos, both to the subject matter and to the writer of Slow Emergencies: "(Art) is a fire sparking up in a human soul. This fire burns, gives warmth and provides light. There are some people who experience the heat, others feel mere warmth, yet a third group only sees the light, and a forth group doesn't sense anything, not even the light. However the majority- the horde - the judges of (artists), don't feel the burning or the warmth, they only see the light. All of them think that the aim of (art) is only to enlighten. People, who think so, become (artists) themselves and walk around with a torch, illuminating lives... Others understand, that the essence is in the warmth, and they artificially warm up that, which is easily warmed ... But a real (artist) cannot force anything. Cannot help anything. Cannot orchestrate anything. He is ablaze, suffering, and he enflames others. And that is the crux of it."Slow Emergencies (American) Overview
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