30 September 2008

Joe Fenton's What's Under the Bed?

Author/Illustrator: Joe Fenton (obviously.)

This cinematically illustrated book plays on a familiar theme: the nighttime terrors that every child experiences. Shadows ooze with toe tickling fear and ominous bumps go bumpity bumpity in the night... the darkness is a fertile breeding ground for the underbelly of the imagination. The nervous boy lies awake conjuring up bizarre images of the elusive monster that is biding its time, waiting to devour him.

This book, while well illustrated, seems relatively unremarkable, until you read it with its timely companion piece: Paul Auster's Man in the Dark.

In Man in the Dark, a literary critic, bedridden and in the twilight of his years, lays awake at night in an insomniac's melancholy haze. In order to keep himself occupied and to prevent himself from wallowing in the painful memories of his past, he allows his imagination to spin fantastical tales of alternate universes that evolve into all kind of metafictional fun.

(I don't want to go into too much detail because I don't want to spoil the plot. I mean, have you seen a picture of Paul Auster? You don't want to get on his bad side or he might bump you off in the night with his evil eye (of which he has two).)

These two tragic figures represent the fears that bookend our lives. On the one hand, we have a young boy who is terrified of the unknown: his future lurking just beyond his grasp. On the other hand, we have an old man who is terrified of the known: his dark past that is filled with the montrosity of his own mistakes.

One is burdened by the nascent existential crisis that fills his youthful nights with trepidation, afraid that he has a lifetime of pain and suffering ahead of him (not to be melodramatic or anything). The other is and old man, afraid to look back on his past--desperately trying to avoid confrontation with the shameful past that haunts his guilt-riddled nights. But then, backing slowly away from ones past, he runs the risk of falling over the edge into the abyss of the ultimate unknown: death.

As a youth, the boy is afraid of the dark. As an old man, je is afraid because he realizes that he is the dark... that over the course of a lifetime, he has traded potential and innocence for the consuming darkness of failure and disappointment. The monster that teases you as a child is none other than your future, the dark fate that you know in the deepest darkest part of your soul that you cannot escape.

Together, these two works comprise the basis of what is becoming known as Post-Post-9-11 fiction. In the days immediately after those horrible terrorist attacks (Post-9-11), America's consciousness was filled with fear of the unknown, the illusion of safety was abruptly torn away from them and the world was once again a fearful place with shadowy caves filled with monsters waiting to attack.

Now we find ourselves in a place (Post-Post-9-11) where we have the ability to see beyond our fears and face ourselves in the mirror. As a nation, we are now marked by the stain of tortures at Guantanamo Bay, preemptive wars, Sarah Palin... our fears have led us down a twisted path and transformed us into that which we feared all along. We have awoken in the middle of the night to find ourselves lost... and in the dark.

Well, that ended up being much darker than I had meant it to be. Life is not that bleak, there is still hope! To prove it, let's end on a lighter note with that adorable laughing baby!

Poor kid... has no idea what's waiting for him...

1 comment:

Maxwell Eaton III said...

I'm still waiting for the children's book version of Nosferatu.