I have been looking into schedules. Even when we read physics, we inquire of each least particle, What then shall I do this morning? How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time.
On the first of each month,
a guest writer
how he or she spends the day.
July 1, 2019: Julia Phillips
Disappearing Earth is so much, too much to capture in one neat sentence. It is the lives of women. It is their voices. It is the violences, large and small, against them. It is community. It is beautiful language. And, here I admit to watching every subtitled Scandinavian TV crime drama I can find, it is place, that eerie sense of place that captures the mood of the lives of the people who live there. The novel is magnificent, and I’m turning back to the beginning to read it again.
The book is structured in thirteen chapters–each one told by a different female character and each one named for a month of the year, except for one. The book begins with “August,” and the chapters/months proceed chronologically with the addition of a chapter named “New Year’s” that falls, as it should, between December and January.
Since with each chapter, we enter the world of a new female character, the chronological naming of the chapters serves to pull the reader forward, although toward what, in the best way, I wasn’t sure. Eleven-year old Alyona narrates the first chapter. She’s taking care of her younger sister Sophia while her mother works. Here’s the first paragraph of the book.
Sophia, sandals off, was standing at the water’s edge. The bay snuck up to swallow her toes. Gray salt water over bright skin. “Don’t go out any farther.” Alyona said.
SPOILER ALERT. In this chapter, a man comes along, and by the end of the chapter, the girls are in his shiny car, Alyona in the front seat, as he fails to turn where he should to take them home. But with the next chapter, the book, instead of becoming a search for the girls, introduces us to another girl, the missing girls seemingly receding into the background.
Olya narrates “September.” She comes home from school and opens the window then lies down. “From that angle, she could see nothing but sky.”
Blue bleeding up to heaven. Forget the news reports, the stricter curfews, the posters of the missing girls–today was a perfect day to spend outside with someone…”It isn’t safe,” Diana said, with her voice high and cold in an imitation of adulthood. Diana’s mother’s voice oozing out of Diana’s mouth.
In an interview at Lemuria, the blog for the wonderful bookstore in Jackson, MS, Julia wrote,
I’m an avid reader and watcher of missing-person stories like the ones on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, but the stories that most excite me are those that show the relationships between individual acts and larger systems…A situation like the one in this book, where two girls go missing for so long, doesn’t just involve one person. It reaches many. And so, I wanted Disappearing Earth to tell the story of a whole community affected by this one act…These different hurts [of all the different women narrators] echo each other, overlap, and end up connecting the characters in ways they never anticipated. Ultimately, their connections are the key to understanding this crime.
Julia was born in Brooklyn and lives there now. But in college, she studied Russian. And to write this book, she spent over a year in Kamchatka, a remote volcanic peninsula cut off from mainland Russia, where Disappearing Earth, her debut, takes place.
Come back on JULY 1st to read how JULIA PHILLIPS spends her days.