The Traveller's Hat

by Liza Potvin
ISBN: 155192594X

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A Review of: The TravellerĘs Hat
by Clara Thomas

Potvin chooses her subjects from the everyday routines of people's lives and searches out the unique quality of each one of her characters. Her epigraph, inscribed in italics, is in three parts, the first from Socrates, "Let him who would move the world, first move himself," the two following from Hesiod's "Works and Days" and from Homer's "The Homeric Hymn to Hermes". She means, I believe, to awaken us anew to the astonishing, ageless surfaces and depths of individual men and women and to record their variety with keen observation and compassion.
"Assumption", for instance, in its simplest outline is the story of a family victimized by an alcoholic, violent father who finally shoots his wife and then himself. But in the crowding memories of his daughter, the narrator, the family's long-ago holiday trip to Brussels is paramount, interwoven with the all too memorable manifestations of her father's twisted psyche. There are no excuses offered nor are any possible-such things just are. As she recalls the holiday feast, elements of earth and heaven join together, the taste delight of tender asparagus and her father's words "Let us have grace." She imagines herself piloting a Lancaster bomber as he did: Some would see a city's lights, and some would see the lights as thousands of little votive candles. "But I know, God knows, and my father knows, that these are young tender white asparagus shoots. And they are everywhere, luminous, just below the surface of the earth, reaching toward the sky."
Perhaps "luminous" is the appropriate word for these stories. A woman recovering from a brutal rape, walking alone towards her home and terrified, is given strength by a vision of angels: "The angels formed two columns, flanking her on either side. Linda felt tall and strong in her new boots, placing one foot in front of the other, leaving a firm imprint in the snow." The young mother of a grievously disabled child finds a moment of peace as he goes to sleep to the whir of the clothes dryer: "Patricia clings to the small boy whose body is wrapped around hers, and slowly waltzes across the concrete floor, spinning around and around and around."
"The Traveller's Hat", the book's title story, is a series of love letters from a travelling woman who calls herself Pandora to her lover whom she calls Hermes, messenger of the gods, patron of travellers and also of language. Pandora's commitment to language constantly does homage to Hermes, its patron. Mythology calls her the first mortal woman who opened the box which had been forbidden her and thereupon released all of the troubles of mankind. At the bottom of the box there was just one item that did not escape-Hope. Pandora's adventures and destinations are described in contemporary detail, but her pledges of love to Hermes promise eternal devotion and return. For Potvin there is no separation of the temporal and spiritual. They exist intertwined and eternal. Whatever else happens, hope remains.

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