"Jane" by Marc Laidlaw: An appreciation by Brian Overton
Now it's on the way out, and I am deeply saddened.
That easy access to great fiction was what led me to Marc Laidlaw. I'd seen his name around. He was that guy that had written the videogame "Half-Life." I knew he had written a novel called "The 37th Mandala." But that was it. Then I started to see his name at BoingBoing when he was a guest blogger, and at the Night Shade Books message boards, where he'd always have a witty comment or he would be expounding on some writer I should know.
I could have bought one of his books or sought out an anthology with one of his stories, but a combination of laziness and forgetfulness kept me from it. Instead, it was when SCI FICTION put up "Jane" that I thought it's about time I checked this writer out.
And I was well served. "Jane" is a wonderful story that straddles the lines between fantasy and horror. Jane is the middle child of a family that lives out in the wilderness. When two travelers come, she learns things about her father she had never known or imagined.
Mystery is a constant theme of the story. We never see beyond the outlines of what Jane herself can see. Therefore, we can have no true image of the world around her, the one she has just begun to discover.
Her family has filtered everything Jane knows and sees. For much of her childhood, Jane, like the falcon her father keeps, was hooded. Her sister still wears the hood. After the father's history comes to call, the family escapes into the jungle. There, Jane considers her sister under the hood:
Anna was hooded against the fearful shapes of the night, and it fell to me to take her hand; and I remembered when I had been much younger myself and how it felt to be led along through darkness, trusting completely in the hand that guided me; and the smell of the hood; and I almost wished for that same security now. But I was a girlchild no longer; I had left the years of hooding behind when our Father felt I was too old for it, so the sheltering blindness was Anna's luxury and not mine.
The story is filled with falcon imagery. The falcon carries a symbol of immense importance to Jane's father as well as the city the family escapes from. Jane dreams at night of flying like the falcon:
That night I dreamt I was an angel, flying in the clear night air, and around my neck I wore a tinkling silver bell, and around my ankles leather cuffs with silver rings that bore my name.
Even in her dreams she still wears a bell, cuffs and rings, the things that attach her to her father.
Without her hood, Jane is forced to see the horrible things that are done to her brother and the rest of her family. She also sees what her father does, how he is broken under the strain of escape.
In the process, Laidlaw gives us some powerfully horrifying imagery. We see the torture Jane's brother Ash is put through. Her father acts to save him by sending out his falcon. What comes back is not her brother:
He held out his right hand so I could see the quarry. It was fleshy and clear, like yellowed glass with milky green shapes inside. It was veined and buzzing with botflies. And it screamed and screamed with my brother's voice until our Father set it on a granite slab and crushed it under his heel.
Scenes like this hint at the horrible reality of the city and Jane's father's past. It's a reality she will come to see and accept as her own.
The story explores the idea of opening your eyes to one's history and responsibilities and to your parents. Jane must take a hard look at her father and decide what she will take from him. While her father's answers seem wrong, Jane's own choices don't seem much better. The last paragraphs of the story sting with the decisions she has made about her future.
Link to story.