The Fragility of Relationships
“Relationships were for that reason utterly mysterious, they took place between two subconscious minds, and whatever the surface trickle thought was going on could not be trusted to be right.”
― Kim Stanley Robinson, Red Mars
As Robinson suggests, it is likely the mysterious nature of relationships that renders them equally compelling and confusing. The authors in this chapter join a ceaseless chorus of storytellers, each relating a piece of their experience of humanity — where humans, surrounded by other humans build relationships that add to the uncertainty of life.
The selections in this chapter, like most relationships, seem like they can be summed up seamlessly. At a glance, “Vinegar Head” looks like a story about growing up, “Fulva Lilium” reads like a narration of growing apart, “Nightdove” appears to be a poem of growing up surrounded, and “Mistake” presents an account of growing up alone. And while tidy categorizations, those snippets of detail barely begin to describe the relationships happening internally or externally in the aforementioned works.
“Vinegar Head” contains interrelational behaviour such as verbal abuse from a mother to her daughter and corresponding acts of rebellion from the daughter; however, Stewart also illuminates how crucial one’s inner relationship is to every outward reaction as the story explores the narrator’s desire to self-express and be understood.
In “Fulva Lilium”, a poem narrated in the first person, Smith exposes the guilt often felt when a relationship falls apart — even if it’s the other person deciding to leave. The collection of what ifs is mainly generated from an inability to be vulnerable, thinking that might maintain the relationship better. The resulting breakup demonstrates this book’s titular irony — that there is so much more than we can possibly understand in life and in relationships.
“Nightdove” employs a narrator who calls upon memories to affirm their present self. To answer a question of uncertainty, Fear’s narrator recalls formative relationships in their life — while the future is yet to be distributed, the past is marked and therefore comforting and instructional when deciphering life’s largest questions.
“Mistake” explores how external relationships immensely affect one’s relationship with the self. In this autofiction relating verbal and physical abuse, the impossibility of understanding why others act how they do is inspected before Stewart’s narrator folds into themself.
In all the works forming this chapter, only one reflects upon positive or healthy relationships. Yet, the crux of each is a desire for relationship, connection. It is in this uncertainty — the inevitability of relationships being our greatest cause of both pain and joy — that Robinson’s truth resounds.