Saturday, April 5, 2014

Maria Mutch's "Know the Night"

Maria Mutch was born and raised in Canada, and graduated from York University in Toronto. Her writing has appeared in Guernica, Necessary Fiction, Fiction Writers Review, Ocean State Review, Bayou Magazine, Literary Mama, The Malahat Review, Fiddlehead and Grain. She lives (and writes and runs) in Rhode Island with her husband and two sons.

Mutch applied the “Page 99 Test” to Know the Night: A Memoir of Survival in the Small Hours, her debut book, and reported the following:
From page 99:
I could stand before the painting as the sleepless parent of a wordless child and make these sorts of connections, teasing out the weakest threads between seemingly isolated and irrelevant occurrences and tying them together until they meant something. I can’t say why I would do this, only that it occurs in the same way that weather happens or tides, though to make the connections, I suppose, is to bear witness, to become a conduit for a language without words.
Know the Night is a memoir that sits outside memoir; it is about being awake with my son, who has Down syndrome, autism and doesn’t speak, but it is also about the polar explorer Richard Byrd and Antarctica, and there is a jazz component, too. And on page 99, there is my visit to see Van Gogh’s Irises at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. The essence of the book is a search for meaning in a two year period when my son developed a sleeping disorder, and my reaction to Van Gogh’s painting is a good example of how I was seeing things. I was fascinated not only by the painting but by the information card pinned to the wall. If you go to see Irises, you will see that, behind the energetic flowers and pointy leaves, there is a creamy white background. If you read Van Gogh’s letter to his brother Theo, written in 1890 and not long before he died, then you find out that the background was intended to be pink. The information card on the museum wall says the change in color is “owing to a fugitive red pigment.” Those words seemed to me like found-poetry and I was taken up with the idea of the changing color and the fleeting nature of red. I was sleep deprived, as well, and living what seems now like a surreal existence. As I hunted for the meaning in my son’s loss of language and his sleep disorder, I had a tendency to view things as symbols. The impermanence of red and the resulting white void seemed to combine well with many of the ideas (the Antarctic ice, loss, mutability, silence) that I was exploring in the book and how I had begun to think. The last line on the page reads, “In the emptied background, then, a simple truth of our situation, that unreliability is an essential trait of what is living.”
Learn more about the book and author at Maria Mutch's website.

--Marshal Zeringue