Starting with the prologue, in which the narrator calls on the spirit of Vladimir Nabokov, time is everywhere present in Dani Shapiro‘s Fugitive Blue. I read the novel in January of last year so time is playing with me and my memory as well.
“Nabokov did not believe in time…But I find it impossible to dismiss time, the very thing which has so intensely failed me.”
Dani Shapiro creates the story in Fugitive Blue using three different time periods:
1) the time from which the narrator is telling the story, which is told in the present tense, in which time is also counted in the number of days since she has stopped drinking;
2) the narrator’s childhood, which is also interestingly told in the present tense, perhaps to show that her childhood is ever present to her, perhaps to make it more immediate to the reader, avoiding the distance the past tense would add; and
3) the narrator’s recent past in NY, which is told in the past tense until the past catches up to the present, and then with a paragraph break, it moves into the present tense, all the while dipping back into the past when the story requires it.
The transitions are flawless. The tenses flow seamlessly one into the other, as do the different time periods of the narrator’s story. An early example from the childhood present:
“I don’t know this now, but in the single motion of removing my white knuckles from the steel handlebars of my bicycle–a feat of which I have been terrified for months–I am entering a lifelong habit of bravado which will end twenty years from now on the steaming pavement of a New York City Street. I don’t have that information. I can’t see the future. I have no way of knowing.”
Even in the present tense, the narrator can see the future and know the end of the story. Time is on her side, so to speak.
I’ve loved this book since the first time I read it, way back in high school. The writing is beautiful and haunting.