Jane Silcott, 192 pgs, Anvil Press, anvilpress.com
Sophocles wrote, “To him who is in fear everything rustles.” Those words begin Jane Silcott’s collection of essays. One encounters this epigraph, meditates its implications, and eventually reads the concluding title essay, “Everything Rustles.” Readers come to recognize that fear holds one’s hand, not only in the act of reading this book, but over the course of a lifetime.
Silcott’s personal essays are just that—personal. Though clear and unwaveringly honest, her narration reveals a woman of many voices, from one essay to the next. How might one act a certain way, at a certain time in one’s life, move on to a new stage, and yet, remain true to the individual self? Silcott’s plurivocality introduces readers to the ineffability of the colloquial, in a way that is as universal as it is diaristic. We encounter a woman who is not opposed to changeability, and her constant inconsistency is something of a comfort: “‘Mother/wife/self, why does there have to be a line?’ I imagine someone enlightened saying. … ‘You are the line,’ my husband would add. ‘Walk it.’”
Silcott is all of these things. And although she does not say so, she is the enlightened “someone” to challenge stricture. Though she may openly flirt with the notion of having perhaps led a quiet, simple life without the challenges of motherhood or marriage, we find that her many personas—as mother, wife, friend, teacher, and even daredevil—make up the bare bones of her essays. Whether she narrates a run-in with a stranger on the street, her admiration of an alluring man who is not her husband, or her slightly uncomfortable though entirely voluntary stint as a teaching subject in a gynecology clinic, her strong voice offers up something of unique value. Silcott is the line; she walks it, stumbles, and finds new direction.
And while the author’s theoretical prowess shines through in the ease with which she references Derrida, Lacan, Eliot, and Joyce, her analyses take root in the experiences of her family life. A discussion of Descartes’ philosophy leads into a geometrically existential mapping of her dining room table. She writes, that after decades of sitting at a round table, “we were set at angles from one another, like pieces of a pie, our attention going towards the center or across at one another.” Her idiom reveals beauty in careful examination. Adopting a square table, as she reveals, changes the family dynamic—makes the dining experience more confrontational, and that is not necessarily a bad thing. It is merely change.
In the end, the notion that everything rustles to the individual who is in fear need not be troubling. On the contrary, we find Silcott’s remarkably candid accounts to be steeped in fear—along with love, joy, curiosity, frustration, and sometimes, utter bewilderment. All that she has accomplished, as well as all that she has yet to discover, brings these issues to bear in the rustling of her pages.