(Los Angeles, CA: Underground Voices, 2016)
There is a famous moment in William Faulker’s As I Lay Dying when a blank space exists on the page where language fails to describe Addie’s feminine experience. Similarly, Wendy J. Fox’s The Pull of It is built around both a literal and figurative hole: the undefined emptiness that protagonist Laura finds in her comfortable life, and the gap where language fails to describe her desires. No one word exists in our language to describe the “it” that pulls at Laura, yet the novel succeeds in exploring her life’s shortcomings and longings through what becomes a love story for a foreign land and a platonic partner.
Fox’s novel follows Laura, a dissatisfied wife and mother who – recently unemployed – departs on what she planned to be a two-week escape to Istanbul, and transforms into what seems like a lifetime living in a remote village with local innkeeper Yasemin. Much of the novel’s tension comes not from strong opposing forces or direct threats to the rural life Laura has built, but from the mundane that serves as a formless, impeding threat to the fulfilment Laura seeks. Fox creates a visceral being through this nothingness, a monster in the ordinary that gains its power through complacency and routine, eagerly waiting to consume Laura upon her return to the states.
Fox compares this domestic monotony to a “ball of yarn, the line of their lives wrapped around some invisible center, a center that, if you unrolled the whole mass, turned out not to be there at all.” This is where Laura begins to tug – at the loose strings of her life, watching the spool unravel until the hollow center reveals its vacant core.
While the center of her domestic life is hollow, the threads that tie its exterior are often intangible as well. Fox employs the use of dreams, memory, and mirages to create an impenetrable barrier around the men in Laura’s life. Her ex-husband, David, is a ghost haunting her dreams. Her husband, Julian, is an empty presence in the novel, existing primarily through memories. Her lover, Paul, literally vanishes from her life, a phantom in Istanbul’s streets that may as well have never been there at all.
Further compounding Laura’s isolation are the Turkish phrases sprinkled throughout the text, brief exchanges on the edges of a language that she cannot seem to grasp. In the same way, words fail to encompass the grief Laura experiences in the suffocating ordinariness of her seemingly successful marriage, or the passion breathed into her by the Turkish land and her platonic partner, Yasemin. Still, Fox’s deft grasp of language explores these nameless sensations through Laura’s experiences, the impressions of her journeys, and the complexity of her newfound relationships.
Although there are times when Laura’s motivations are difficult to understand or empathize with, this is, perhaps, Fox’s main point: that the desires of this woman are indefinable, something unchartered and nameless in the domestic American sphere and English language. While most narratives driven by dissatisfied middle-aged married persons typically end with reunited spouses or successful affairs with young suitors, The Pull of It ends in a platonic arranged marriage driven by one woman’s love for a late friend and her young daughter. While the men of the novel are mere phantoms, Yasemin lives on as a powerful force even beyond the grave, the center of Laura’s world and the threads she ties around it. Although this platonic, consuming love is a concept yet to be named, Fox crafts her novel around it, spinning words like thread to build the nameless center of Laura’s new life.
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Briana McDonald’s fiction has appeared in Rozyln: Short Fiction by Women Writers, Marathon Literary Review, and The Stonecoast Review. She is Associate Online Editor and a prose reader at The Literary Review.