So, the project that will never die--and the project that disappears in huge gaps (it's been just a month under 4 1/2 years since the last post)--my readings of the journal, The Quarterly, piece by piece. Still reading issue 2 but hope this jump in is one that lasts through the fall and winter at the very least this time around.
The story is Greving by Pamela Schirmeister and I have to be honest, I must have peeked at it quickly and believed it was titled Grieving until I'd read a few pages and realized that Greves were a type of bird that the unnamed female narrator and her companion, Brand, were searching for during a trip to Africa. Not a whole lot else about the duo is really ventured into--how it is they've afforded to hang out searching for birds in Africa for an extended stay for example. Though there is a laundry list of items they've brought with them--and I do believe long lists of this type in fiction were fairly new at this time--those paragraph-long types of lists--including Cheeze-Its.
My original mis-reading of the title almost seems not far off having finished the story a couple of times now. The entire story is told from the point of view of the narrator, and much of it is about Brand and how he's dealing with daily rains which may, or may not, be the cause of their not finding any sign of greves. Or how he's seeing elephants visiting the river by their encampment every morning (though the locals tell them this is not possible--that elephants are not near where they are at this time of year). Of how when they arrived in Africa he purchased three copies of a birder guide to Africa and made copious notes in the margins day after day.
Brand will get up and walk to the windows to look out. Crossing the floor, bare feet on common wood, his eyes shining in the dark, he makes less sound than the rain that falls on the roof. As if he were vanishing, except that I can see him framed against the slit of sky, head to one side, waiting. Sometimes he will stand there, motionless, for twenty minutes or more before returning to bed. It is not that he cares about the elephants. But they have become a kind of comfort, something to look forward to at the end of these days that seem never to end, and they do not disturb us.
This appears in the opening paragraph of the story and Schirmeister maintains that slightly distant tone of writing throughout the story--almost a lack of emotion is what I really notice. In this story that eventually does see Brand vanish, at least from their camp and from the narrator's life, with no real escalation of emotion. However, Schirmeister is still able to maintain her reader's attention. The quiet, distant almost push away from what might usually pull a reader in is handled in a way that eliminated what I believe would be the normal tendency--to not care much and start looking ahead to the next story. I've not quite been able to unpack exactly what it is that she did that helped keep me interested, but think it has to do with the way she dispensed the specifics about the story--starting with the elephants and moving to the greves and the reason they were there, followed by interactions with others and a brief history of their journey to that point. It was done in a manner that just when the tone might have begun to frustrate, I was hit with something new, something else to consider, and it pushed me past how I was finding out. I'm definitely interested in seeing if there's more work by Pamela Schirmeister in future issues of The Quarterly.