There are many images and sentences that are repeated in the book. I would like the reader to take note of these phrases and note the drawings I made for the book. I know it is unusual for an author not writing for children to make illustrations for her own book. It seems to be so unexpected that interviewers don’t even mention them. There are drawings! They are important as visual punctuation for the novel as a whole. If I didn’t want them to be seen, I wouldn’t have put them in the book! Some of the images contain clues and secrets.
The knife is a returning image that shifts meaning as the novel unfolds. There is a real knife, a switchblade, in the book, a knife Minnesota names “The Baroness” because the Baroness was a rebel, a woman who early in the 20th century boldly cut through the smothering expectations that women face, that they behave nicely, are never angry, and defer to men. Memory is a knife when the memory is traumatic. The traumatic memory cuts through time in flashbacks, which S.H. experiences after an assault. The flashback is a reliving or reenactment of a terrifying event. Neuroscientific evidence suggests that this kind of memory is stored in a very different way from ordinary autobiographical memories. It’s a volcanic upsurge of the earlier terrible experience in motor-sensory and sometimes visual form. It is rarely accompanied by words.
The knife then becomes the image or mutating symbol of the heroine’s rage, rage that she has great difficulty expressing. Some of her childhood memories reveal her repression. Anger was forbidden in her early life. She needs the knife to say what she cannot say—yet. I’m glad you mentioned the keys, too. The young woman in concert with the old woman search for a key to unlock the reason for the pain they have suffered over time. Despite the high comedy and literary high jinks that also run through the novel, the story is about trying to find a way out of an impossible position. I think your words “turning, opening up ideas, perspectives” and “locking away passion and potential” are exactly to the point. The book is looking for a solution to the pain.
There is a little ditty the old narrator writes that encapsulates the book’s movement:
There is a knife, and there is a key
.There is a lady who boils the tea.
Open the book and learn the spell.
There is a story I have to tell.
The keys needed are on the keyboard. The writing of the book itself, which tells Minnesota’s story of blindness and passivity and pain and rage and ultimately liberation through her imagination is the key. She writes her way to freedom by reimagining herself. That is the magic of fiction.