The ProsenPeople

Braided Stories

Friday, November 07, 2014 | Permalink

Earlier this week, Jennifer Rosner wrote about her novel-in-progress and also a gene mutation, a motherly connection, and the power of string. She is the author of the picture book, The Mitten String (Random House, 2014) and the memoir, If A Tree Falls: A Family's Quest to Hear and Be Heard (Feminist Press, 2010). Jennifer has been blogging here all week for Jewish Book Council'sVisiting Scribe series.

Strings figure not only in the imagery but also in the overall structure of my writing. Both my memoir, If A Tree Falls, and my novel-in-progress, Hidden, have “braided” structures: the weaving of multiple perspectives (and in the case of my memoir, multiple time periods).

A braided form - though admittedly unwieldy when compared to a narrative with a singular point of view – enables the reader unmediated access to the experiential life of multiple characters in a story. This is important when the story cannot be known in its entirety by any single character, or when the writer needs to limit the complexity of a character’s thought (as when the character is a very young child). In Hidden, both of these factors are at play.

A woven structure can reflect and support a characters’ fragmented mentation. Texture can be infused through form as well as through content. Brenda Miller’s thoughts on challah, set in juxtaposition to her thoughts on the braided essay, seem apt here: “As a child, I knew only that the braided bread simply tasted better than ordinary bread, the way texture will often affect flavor, and the way presentation and form can sometimes offer sustenance in itself.” (Brenda Miller, The Braided Heart)

The braided form can have its pitfalls – switching perspectives can feel disruptive to the reading experience, and there is the risk that a reader will become more attached to one voice over another and want to skip around. (Confession: this happens to me, as a reader and as a writer of braided stories, more often than I care to admit!)

But just as I attempt to braid challah for my children on Fridays (gluten free, in our household – no easy task!), I attempt to weave the stories of my characters together, tying the strings – some intact, some frayed and broken – that symbolize the connections and disconnections marking our shared human experience.

Jennifer Rosner's writings have appeared in The New York Times, Good Housekeeping, The Jewish Daily Forward, The Massachusetts Review, and elsewhere. Jennifer holds a Ph.D. in Philosophy from Stanford University, and is editor of the anthology, The Messy Self (Paradigm Publishers, 2007). She lives in Western Massachusetts with her family.

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String Imagery and Jennifer Rosner's Novel-In-Progress

Wednesday, November 05, 2014 | Permalink

Earlier this week, Jennifer Rosner wrote about a gene mutation, a motherly connection, and the power of string. She is the author of the picture book, The Mitten String (Random House, 2014) and the memoir, If A Tree Falls: A Family's Quest to Hear and Be Heard (Feminist Press, 2010). Jennifer will be blogging here all week for Jewish Book Council's Visiting Scribe series.

As I work on new writing projects, string imagery continues to have its hold. My novel-in-progress, Hidden, is about a mother and child, set during the Holocaust. The mother gets the opportunity to put her child in a convent for safety, but the act of giving her child away (even to save her) triggers debilitating emotions of all sorts. In my story, the mother struggles with connection for the rest of her life.

Strings figure into the story, but in nefarious ways. The mother stitches her child’s Jewish name into the seam of her security blanket – to let her know her given name and to hasten a reunion later – but this threading comes to haunt the mother in dreams in which her daughter is gagged, choked, and pierced as the stitches create additional risk that her child’s Jewishness will be discovered. In time, the child becomes a violinist (a player of strings), and music ultimately becomes an avenue for reconnection and healing, but along the way there is heightened risk of discordance, brokenness, and the giving-away of safe hiding places because of the sounds emanating from those strings.

Ties bind. In Hidden, I explore the complex need for human connections even as one’s survival may require their unraveling.

Jennifer Rosner's writings have appeared in The New York Times, Good Housekeeping, The Jewish Daily Forward, The Massachusetts Review, and elsewhere. Jennifer holds a Ph.D. in Philosophy from Stanford University, and is editor of the anthology, The Messy Self (Paradigm Publishers, 2007). She lives in Western Massachusetts with her family.

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A Gene Mutation, a Motherly Connection, and the Power of String

Monday, November 03, 2014 | Permalink

Jennifer Rosner is author of the picture book, The Mitten String (Random House, 2014) and the memoir, If A Tree Falls: A Family's Quest to Hear and Be Heard (Feminist Press, 2010). She will be blogging here all week for Jewish Book Council's Visiting Scribe series.

In my memoir, If A Tree Falls, and more recently in my picture book, The Mitten String, there is a character modeled after my great-great aunt, Bayla, who lived in an Austrian shtetl in the 1800s. Bayla was deaf and when she had a baby – whom she could neither see nor hear in the dark of night – she tied a string between them. When her baby cried, she felt the tug on her end of the string and woke to care for her child.

Since first hearing of Bayla’s story, string imagery has wended its way into my writing: braided strands of hair, violin strings, umbilical cords, the cilia that are meant to send auditory signals to the brain. Some of the imagery I’ve been drawn to is distinctively Jewish: the midwife’s string from a laboring mother’s bed to the synagogue’s ark door; the strings of the tzitzit, the straps of the tefillin wrapped around a wrist and the accompanying verse from Hosea 2:20: "You are betrothed to me in love and righteousness."

Perhaps my interest in Bayla’s string and others comes from my deep desire for motherly connection. My own daughters were born deaf as a result of Connexin 26, a gene mutation prevalent among Askenazi Jews. As a new mother, I feared a chasm between me and my girls because of the experiences we would never share. I was in search of ways to connect to them through the difference of my hearing and their deafness.

Searching for pathways of connection with my daughters – outside and inside my writing life – has led me to a deeper understanding of myself and my history, the ways I’ve experienced hearing and being heard. As our family begins this new year together, the closeness I have been able to forge with my daughters feels like a gift passed down through the generations, like a tug on the wrist that keeps us connected, even in the dark of night.

Jennifer Rosner's writings have appeared in The New York Times, Good Housekeeping, The Jewish Daily Forward, The Massachusetts Review, and elsewhere. Jennifer holds a Ph.D. in Philosophy from Stanford University, and is editor of the anthology, The Messy Self (Paradigm Publishers, 2007). She lives in Western Massachusetts with her family.

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