Research Notes · 02/06/2015

The Deep Zoo

Our Research Notes series invites authors to describe their research for a recent book, with “research” defined as broadly as they like. This week, Rikki Ducornet writes about The Deep Zoo from Coffee House Press.

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“I will be true to you, whatever comes,” says the mother of three sons in the opening scene of Terence Malick’s deeply imagined film Tree of Life. She is speaking to the god of love and she is speaking to her sons, those sons who in their infancies “shouted for joy.” She is speaking to Nature, which matters to her greatly, and to Grace — which she embodies. But she cannot fulfill her promise. She will prove powerless in the face of her husband’s incomprehension and jealous rage, a man who, like Jehovah, would betray his sons. (30)

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If in their early years the three sons thrive in the warm glow of an Edenic infancy, shadows gather; the dining room becomes a Star Chamber where the mother shrinks to near invisibility as the father swells to ominous proportions. He becomes an ogre, a giant, a demon unleashed, an eater of souls. Round as marbles, the food on the plate eludes the fork, the teeth. The “bread of life” is nowhere near this table. Disorder takes over. First the boys are silenced; then they are banished. Having tasted of the world’s bounty and glimpsed their own capacities, they grow fearful, angry, and withdrawn. When Jack says to his mother, “What do you know?” he might as well be saying, “What do you know of love?” (40)

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The animals race by…

— Once upon a time there was a parrot whose entire boy trembled with passion when it sang.

Friends, it will be lonely.

— There was once an owl who called out to its companions telling of rain, and who cherished accordion music.

There are lonely times ahead.

— Once a macaw the color of lapis lazuli.
Our children will be wistful for those things that tell them who they are… (101)

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Excerpts from “Houses on Fire” and “The Practice of Obscurity” are reprinted by permission from The Deep Zoo (Coffee House Press, 2015). Copyright © 2015 by Rikki Ducornet.

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The author of eight novels as well as collections of short stories, essays, and poems, Rikki Ducornet has been a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, honored twice by the Lannan Foundation, and the recipient of an Academy Award in Literature. Widely published abroad, Ducornet is also a painter who exhibits internationally. She lives in Port Townsend, Washington.