This is a Story with a Book
The setting for this excerpt is 2047 – a few decades from now. But it’s really set further off in the future than that. The narrator is Julia Moro, the protagonist of The Circle of Thirteen, and she is looking back to the when she was four years old. It’s her earliest recollection as a child.
My first recollection is of my mother. I’ve always thought of that first memory with her as a happy one. It was a warm evening in our co-housing apartment in the Mt. Tamalpais foothills, just north of San Francisco. The window must have been open, because I remember the noise of our neighbors outside working in the community garden. My mother and I were snuggled on a daybed with the pillows propped up on one side. I was leaning against her, cuddled up under her arm. My favorite blanket was on my lap, but it was spread out so we could share it. . . . .
In this, my happiest memory, we were reading my favorite picture book. It must have been near bedtime, because the storyline was written with an eye to getting children in the mood for sleep. It usually worked on me, but sometimes we had to go through it twice. By the time the lights had dimmed and everyone in the story was asleep—when the little mouse was seated on the windowsill, looking at the moon and the stars in the nighttime sky—I was almost asleep as well. It was a quiet, magical moment when I felt as safe and happy as all the characters in the book. I remember my mother carrying me into the bedroom and whispering something that I still can’t quite recall.
The story turns much darker after that. Julia walks around the house later on, book in hand, dragging her blanket, looking for her mother so that they can read another story together. It is at that point that Julia begins to describe for the reader the secrets of her mother’s severely troubled life.
I’m not sure what made me structure the story this way. I typed the words furiously into the computer until the scene had run its course. Of all the scenes in the book, I think this one had the fewest revisions.
What moved me, I suppose, is the near certainty that there is a scene with a book lodged somewhere in the earliest memories of a great many children. That was certainly so in my case. I have a vivid memory of sitting on a couch in our living room, reading endlessly through a copy of the Poky Little Puppy.
In the case of Julia, as you’ve no doubt guessed, she and her mother are curled around a copy of Goodnight Moon, looking for the little mouse in every scene. Since Goodnight Moon was first published in 1947, the story would be 100 years old by the time it found its way into Julia’s lap in this novel. But the story is really timeless. I have not a doubt in my mind that it will be there to delight children in 2047 and for years thereafter.
There’s something visceral about a book that can’t be replaced. Children know it, and their parents know it as well. I’ve seen many parents yank game boxes and keyboards form the hands of their children, but I’ve never seen them do that with a book. They know that their children are holding memories.