The Frozen Fields by Paul Bowles, 1959
The magic trick:
Using the wolf and the woods as a symbol – both dreamt and real – of Donald’s stand against his father’s behavior
I wouldn’t recommend this one when you gather the family close ’round the fireplace this month for warm, fuzzy storytime. I would, however, recommend it for just about any other reading session. It’s a striking story.
Bowles does an impressive job of developing very quickly a complex set of family relationships. There is much to ponder here. The central relationship, however, is that of father and the son, Donald, from whose perspective we see much of the story.
We know from the very beginning what Donald thinks of his father. He doesn’t say anything to his family, but with access to his thoughts the reader knows that Donald loathes him. We see these feelings only intensify as the story progresses, peaking during a fairly terrifying dream sequence in which Donald imagines a wolf killing his father. Beautifully – and I realize I’m spoiling some plot points here – the dream sequence returns in reality later in the story. The wolf and the woods come to represent something like a saving grace for Donald. He refuses to give in to his father’s demands to poke the bear (or literally, wolf), his demands to follow his own brand of violent release. It is a powerful moment and a very artfully rendered conclusion. And that’s quite a trick on Bowles’s part.
“Get up,” his father said disgustedly. He did not move. If he held his breath long enough he might die.
His father yanked him to his feet. “I’ve had just about enough of your monkeyshines,” he said. Clutching him tightly with both hands, he forced him to hobble ahead of him, back through the twilight to the house.
Donald moved forward, looking at the white road in front of him, his mind empty of thoughts. An unfamiliar feeling had come to him: he was not sorry for himself for being wet and cold, or even resentful at having been mistreated. He felt detached; it was an agreeable, almost voluptuous sensation which he accepted without understanding or questioning it.
As they advanced down the long alley of maple trees in the dusk his father said: “Now you can go and cry in your mother’s lap.”
“I’m not crying,” said Donald loudly, without expression. His father did not answer.
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