“He keeps to himself.”
No, I am not, for once, quoting from Eileen Spinelli’s Somebody Loves You Mr. Hatch, or summarizing one neighborhood’s impression of the resident sociopath, only guessing at our consensus about anyone between the ages of consent and retirement without, at least, a Facebook page. Maybe he’s sad. Or in witness protection. Or has multiple identities to choose from.
We tend to worry – about our crazy loner selves as much as others – but I think the opposite perils are every bit as corrosive. Of course it can help to have someone to bounce your brilliant ideas off of sometimes, just to make sure that they’re not, well, crazy, still where else but in those private and ungovernable places do brilliant ideas get born?
Marie-Louise Gay is famous for her Stella books, rightfully I think, and amazingly, considering her French-Canadian origins. And if her flame-haired protagonist bears a superficial resemblance to any number of other less fully imagined picture book heroines, Gay’s On My Island hints at just how much imagining is probably going on behind the scenes. This book never did anything here (Amazon ranks it at one million-and-something, whatever that means, about nine-hundred thousand places behind Stella, Princess of the Sky) but it’s breathtakingly inspired – by nothing much odder than the ostensibly quiet moments we spend rooting around in our imaginations. Very little happens – unless you count fire-breathing sea serpents and rodeo dolphins and parachuting elephants and exploding volcanoes and angel fish tethered in the sky by kite strings. A train sinking under the horizon. Ants building sandcastles. Oh, and:
“Day after day, the wolf goes fishing.
So we eat a lot of fish.”
That wolf is a fixture here, and two cats, and a bat, and those ants – some pretty odd company, but who’s judging? I picture this author and illustrator traveling two countries on book signing tours, and shaking hands, and posing with toddlers, and answering queries – yabba blabba blabba – still once in a while retreating for quiet moments between appearances, and using everything in her suitcase – watercolors, yes, Dali-esque clocks, and shreds of newsprint in many languages, and Japanese tissue paper, plant material even – to capture of the sort of “mysterious happenings” where not a single word of dialogue is ever heard.
Oh, probably it didn’t happen this way, but so what? At least it keeps me guessing. If you are out there, Marie-Louise Gay, and you have a Twitter account, I really don’t want to know about it, okay?