March 15, 2016
The Blank Slate
Memory, like water, is fluid. It ebbs and flows with time and experience. Elasticity and conjecture are its currency. What appears to be fact can be washed away by blind belief, or subordinated by the wants and needs of the memory holder. There is fiction, there is myth and there is parable. All serve to show us something. Something the writer wants us to understand. Something we may have missed.
Allegory can be tricky form of narrative to sell to a reader. It has to have just enough of the truth in it so the reader can empathize with the tale being told, but removed enough so that it can be dismissed as a dream, a lie or a fantasy. Leave the background details vague enough to seem familiar, yet alien. Call everyday objects by just-off names—so the reader knows exactly what they are, but still seem strange and new—and you are off and running. Chang Rae-Lee handles this morphing in his novel, On a Full Sea, masterfully.
America, as it is in Lee’s book, has suffered a collapse of some sort, and has been re-colonized by, as it seems, Asians. Most notably, those from “New China”, though we don’t really know what that is. All we are told, in an offhand way, I might add, is that there was very little endemic population to resist this colonization. Weather and pollution are alluded to in very passable ways by the collective narrative as just facts of life. It’s in the past. It is just the way things are.
The colonizers have set up, over generations, a society that mirrors—in a very stark, and not very veiled way by the writer— an America that could be on the horizon. Rich on top, Service in the middle, Poor on the bottom. This is not so far removed from our everyday reality today.
People, when they are miserable, or feel oppressed, look for saviors. They will look anywhere. Anyone out of the ordinary who has a message that resonates with their plight is ripe for the role—whether they intended it or not.
Enter the figure of Fan in this tale. Fan is portrayed, in Lee’s tale, as really nothing special. She looks young for her age, hence no real extra-sexual allusions to her society. She is good at her job in the tanks, but she is expected to be. She appears normal in every way. Not to pretty, not too smart—not too anything. She is the perfect B-Mor worker.
Until she’s not.
This is where the Blank Slate starts. Once Fan walks out of the gates of B-Mor the mythology begins. No one—not even the collective writer knows anything.
This is where it gets interesting. How did these details become known to the writers of this? This is a non-descript girl that no one cared about. How did she get on the radar? How did these tales of Fan’s travels get back to B-Mor?
Reg disappeared, never to be seen or heard from again. Was he C-Free? No one
knows—least of all the Pharmacorp. Did Fan? Nope. And did she care? No one knows.
Fan’s act of leaving is a direct slap in the face of everything that she and her Clan have been raised to believe in. That starts the Myth. Love conquers all… or so we want to believe.
No one knows Anything once Fan leaves B-Mor. However, the stories, and they are very distinct passages, with very distinct starts and endings, read like parables. Fan acclimates to the Smokes: Fan fits in with the murderous circus family, until it is obvious she doesn’t; Fan ends up with the girls in Mr. Leo’s house—but apart from them: At her brother’s house with Betty as an apparent part of “the Family” until she’s not—
Fan is the catalyst that is slow moving water that erodes and changes the landscape.
To the collective writer of this book she is a symbol. Maybe they heard of her adventures, if you could call them that, from traveling traders, but who would care? She is the One Who Left. All the writers know is that.
As B-Mor’s sustainability was threatned, even though it was short term—as this tale only spans a few weeks or months—they looked for a savior. A young girl left the relative safety of her home, for no reason they could fathom, put their hopes and dreams and frustrations and imaginations on a video image. No one knew her. No one cared, Until she left.
It doesn’t matter what happened to Fan after she got into that Limo with Vik. The story was done. The one person who asked nothing of her was her companion—at the behest of the true love of his life. Sacrifice.
Fan is who we would want to be without having to do anything. Fan is just a figure that because she is there things happen, She is what the writers want her to be. She is everything—and nothing. She is just Fan.