bookgazing: (feministponies)
[personal profile] bookgazing posting in [community profile] ladybusiness
In the beginning, "If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love" seems set to live up to its whimsical title. It starts, as you would expect, with the narrator explaining that her partner would make the most charming terrible lizard:

If you were a dinosaur, my love, then you would be a T-Rex. You’d be a small one, only five feet, ten inches, the same height as human-you. You’d be fragile-boned and you’d walk with as delicate and polite a gait as you could manage on massive talons. Your eyes would gaze gently from beneath your bony brow-ridge.

He sounds adorable. In my mind’s eye, I gave this dinosaur a cane and bow tie.

By describing her partner as a dinosaur, the narrator indirectly creates a clear picture of what her human partner is like. Her words conjure up a vision of the man behind the dinosaur, and her word choice makes clear what she loves and admires about him - his politeness, his delicate nature and his gentle gaze.

Her word choice also makes him sound breakable and easy to damage; a person/dinosaur that requires the greatest of care. On reflection, this description sounds a warning bell for the story’s later revelations.

Strangely, the narrator manages to emphasise the ‘delicate’ nature of her partner without creating any dissonance between her word choice and an image of a T-Rex; the deadliest dinosaur of my childhood imagination. When she says he’ll be ‘fragile-boned’ I kept picturing the small arms of a T-Rex and it seemed right that a T-Rex could have ‘massive talons’ and still be ‘delicate’. It’s a mark of Swirsky’s skill that her story could so easily override all the images of a T-Rex devouring and stomping that I took in as a child.

As the story progresses, the narrator continues to imagining how life might play out if her partner were a dinosaur. If he was a dinosaur she would ‘become a zookeeper’ and sing her T-Rex lullabies. In the next paragraph she predicts that if she sang him lullabies, he’d pick up music and they’d end up touring Broadway. The narrative is structures around a simple, comforting pattern; each paragraph begins with an ‘If’ statement which predicts the consequences of the events the narrator described in the preceding paragraph. It’s the kind of easy, nonsense-story spinning that any couple might indulge in out of boredom, mischief and love.

As this game of make believe continues it becomes clear that the path of true love never runs smoothly when you’re in love with the last T-Rex alive. The narrator believes that she and her lover would be parted. Scientists would get involved and he would be married off to a new female T-Rex. However, some good would come out of it because, as she stands as best woman at his wedding, ‘My soul would feel light because I’d know that you and I had made something new in the world and at the same time revived something very old.’

Have you guessed? A story that lulls its reader into a sense of security with rhythmic narrative patterns and whimsical dinosaur weddings must surely have a sting in its tale. When it comes, the twist is the kind of quiet reveal that will knock you down and then flower into a hundred ‘ohs’ of understanding as you re-consider the entire story. Absolutely everything looks different after that twist - from the narrative’s single voice, to the narrator’s generous outlook at her dinosaur’s wedding; all the little, precise details that this tale is made up of acquire new meaning. The most heartbreaking moment of understanding comes from re-read the narrator’s comment that she would show ‘…all those people who—deceived by the helix-and-fossil trappings of cloned dinosaurs– believed that they lived in a science fictional world when really they lived in a world of magic where anything was possible.’ Oh. Oh.

While the twist provides a real gut punch it was the simplicity of Swirsky’s story that drove it deep into my heart. The precision of the images and descriptive words she has chosen has created the lightest of narrative tones, but it’s also a versatile tone which fits well whether the narrator is describing tragic or happy situations. I suppose it might be characterised as a slightly removed tone – the way someone tells the story of an alternate reality to comfort or to keep themselves from feeling what is happening around them. Perhaps the story teller notes so many sharp details to keep from absorbing the wider consequences of what is in front of her.

Whatever the narrative reason for it, the high level of detail guarantees that the reader gains quick emotional access to the story. I was thoroughly drawn into all scenes and took the full, simple brunt of the ending to heart despite having only spent a short time with the narrator. There’s a high probability of tears with this one I’m afraid.

Other Thoughts

Calico Reaction - discussion thread

Date: 2014-05-31 01:17 pm (UTC)
chomiji: Matsumoto Rangiku from Bleach, looking sad (Rangiku - sad thoughts)
From: [personal profile] chomiji

Nice analysis. I read this one via Barry Deutsch's blog amd was definitely teary at the end. And also angry. I wanted to confront and destroy those who had brought the lovers to this pass.

Date: 2014-05-31 02:47 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Damn! That was a great short story. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

More Swirsky

Date: 2016-08-13 09:11 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Have any of you read Grand Jete? ( I've read that and the reviewed piece and Grand Jete strikes me as more of a masterpiece.


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