The Starless Sea—Erin Morgenstern
Year Read: 2020
The guard sits in a chair by the door and reads crime serials on faded paper, wishing he were an idealized, fictional version of himself.
Those who wish to choose this path must spend a full cycle of the moon in isolated contemplation before they commit. The contemplation is thought to be silent, but of those who allow themselves to be locked away in the stone-walled room, some will realize that no one can hear them. They can talk or yell or scream and it violates no rules. The contemplation is only thought to be silent by those who have never been inside the room.
Once her voice has been muted, then her ears awaken. Then the stories begin to come.
A boy at the beginning of a story has no way of knowing that the story has begun.
He spends so much time in front of screens he has a near-compulsive need to let his eyeballs rest on paper.
Reading a novel, he supposes, is like playing a game where all the choices have been made for you ahead of time by someone who is much better at this particular game.
“Everything should come back to story.”
“Hey,” Zachary says and she looks up from her book with a dazed expression he’s used to wearing himself, the disorientation of being pulled out of one world and back into another.
She is young enough to carry fear with her without letting it into her heart. Without being scared. She wears her fear lightly, like a veil, aware that there are dangers but letting the crackling awareness hover around her. It does not sink in, it buzzes in excitement like a swarm of invisible bees.
Perhaps the book will act like some sort of beacon and draw whatever or whoever it is he’s looking for to him. He believes in books, he thinks as he leaves the room. That much he knows for sure.
They find stories tucked in hidden corners and laid out on tables, as though they had been there always, waiting for their reader to arrive.
He finds himself wishing the proper people to talk to would light up or have hovering indicator arrows over their heads or dialogue options to choose from. He doesn’t always wish that real life were more like video games, but in certain situations it would be helpful. Go here. Talk to this person. Feel like you’re making progress even though you don’t know what it is you’re trying to do, exactly.
They study their story for a year. They must learn it by memory. By more than memory, they must learn it by heart. Not so that they can simply recite the words but so that they feel them, the shape of the story as it changes and lifts and falls and rushes or meanders toward its climax. So that they can recall and relate the story as intimately as if they have lived it themselves and as objectively as if they have played every role within.
But this is not where their story ends. This is only where it changes.
Making a witch laugh feels like a lucky sort of thing.
“Spiritual but not religious,” Zachary clarifies. He doesn’t say what he is thinking, which is that his church is held-breath story listening and late-night-concert ear-ringing rapture and perfect-boss fight-button pressing. That his religion is buried in the silence of freshly fallen snow, in a carefully crafted cocktail, in between the pages of a book somewhere after the beginning but before the ending.
“This is the rabbit hole. Do you want to know the secret to surviving once you’ve gone down the rabbit hole?” Zachary nods and Mirabel leans forward. Her eyes are ringed with gold. “Be a rabbit,” she whispers.
“The weather. It’s like a poem. Where each word is more than one thing at once and everything’s a metaphor. The meaning condensed into rhythm and sound and the spaces between sentences. It’s all intense and sharp, like the cold and the wind.”
“A story is like an egg, a universe contained in its chosen medium. The spark of something new and different but fully formed and fragile. In need of protection. You want to protect it, too, but there’s more to it than that. You want to be inside it, I can see it in your eyes. I used to seek out people like you, I am practiced at spotting the desire for it. You want to be in the story, not observing it from the outside. You want to be under its shell. The only way to do that is to break it. But if it breaks, it is gone.”
She found she no longer minded that the stories would linger. That some enjoyed them and others did not but that is the nature of a story. Not all stories speak to all listeners, but all listeners can find a story that does, somewhere, sometime. In one form or another.
Museums clamored for her exhibits but she preferred to show her work in libraries or in bookstores, on mountains and on beaches.
His face is so much more than hair and eye color, she wonders why books do not describe the curves of noses or the length of eyelashes. She studies the shape of his lips. Perhaps a face is too complicated to capture in words.
It is easier to be in love in a room with closed doors. To have the whole world in one room. In one person. The universe condensed and intensified and burning, bright and alive and electric. But doors cannot stay closed forever.
Maybe all moments have meaning. Somewhere.
They’re wrapped in memories. Memories of who they were when they were alive.
Zachary peels and eats a mandarin orange in small segments of sunshine as he reads.
“Each of us has our own path, Mister Rawlins. Symbols are for interpretation, not definition.”
“Move through this,” Simon advises him. “Let it move through you and then let it go.”
“We are the stars,” he answers, as though it is the most obvious of facts afloat in a sea of metaphors and misdirections. “We are all stardust and stories.”
“The story,” Simon repeats as though it answers the question instead of creating new ones. “I was in the story and then wandered outside of it and I found this place where I could listen instead of being read.
“Everything whispers the story here, the sea and the bees whisper and I listen and I try to find the shape of it all. Where it has been and where it is going. New stories wrap themselves around the old ones. The ancient stories that flames whisper to moths.”
“We proceed at different rates but we are all moving into the future.”
He is becoming accustomed to strangeness.
“Be brave,” she says. “Be bold. Be loud. Never change for anyone but yourself. Any soul worth their star-stuff will take the whole package as is and however it grows.”
I knew I felt like we were right at that place where you go from being regular friends to help-you-move-dead-bodies friends but we weren’t quite there yet, like we needed to do one more side quest together and earn a few more mutual approval points.
A book is made of paper but a story is a tree.
Mysterious ladies offering bourbon under the stars is very much my aesthetic.
She sat next to me and told me that we were the people that the narrative would have followed out from the party if we were in a movie or a novel or something. We were where the story was, the story you could follow like a string, not all the overlapping party stories in the house, tangled up with too many dramas soaked in cheap alcohol and stuffed into not enough rooms.
Someone was trying to keep the story from ending, I think. But the story wanted an ending. Endings are what give stories meaning.
I think the best stories feel like they’re still going, somewhere, out in story space.