Authors: Susanna Moore
Tags: #General Fiction
“To read the novels of Susanna Moore is to enter an eerily fascinating kingdom of Hawaiian lore [where] mythic past contends with troubled present. The shivery beauty of Moore’s prose is ever in the service of painful truths. Her dialogue is … absolutely brilliant, scathingly funny. The witty portraiture, dramatic evocation of natural splendor and spookily persuasive take on the human heart are almost impossible to resist.”
“Marvelous—gorgeous descriptions of landscape, precise evocations of personality …
leaves us with images that stay with us long after we’ve finished the novel.”
The Washington Post Book World
“Moore is a novelist who can weave magic.”
“Moore’s language is sensual and vividly pictorial.… She instills the Hawaiian landscape with animistic energy. Her sketch of L.A. is quick, but it’s eerie and convincing. What is striking about her achievement in
is the almost seamless synthesis of the historical, mythological and psychological elements of Clio’s quest.”
“Like a lucid dream … Moore’s novel revels in economical, lovely images and everyday impossibilities.”
“What a strange and lovely book with none of the muddy shabbiness that one finds in lesser prolonged rituals of growth. Moore reinvents the form and makes the old voyage new again. She writes like an angel who has taken a lifelong course in demonology.”
The Whiteness of Bones
My Old Sweetheart
Susanna Moore is from Hawaii but now lives in New York City. She is also the author of the novels
The Whiteness of Bones
My Old Sweetheart
, which won the PEN/Ernest Hemingway citation and the Sue Kaufman Prize from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters.
Copyright © 1993 by Susanna Moore
All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto. Originally published in hardcover by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York, in 1993.
Grateful acknowledgment is made to the following for permission to reprint previously published material:
New Directions Publishing Corporation
: Excerpt from poem xxxvii by Marichiko from
One Hundred More Poems from the Japanese
, translated by Kenneth Rexroth, copyright ©1974, 1976 by Kenneth Rexroth. Reprinted by permission.
University of Hawaii Press
: Excerpt from “The Prince’s Words to the Princess” from
The Echo of Our Song: Chants and Poems of the Hawaiians
, translated and edited by Mary Kawena Pukui and Alfons L. Korn, copyright © 1973 by The University Press of Hawaii; excerpt from “Minamoto No Morotada” from
Japanese Poetry the ‘Uta’
by Arthur Waley, copyright © 1976 by George Allen & Unwin Ltd. Reprinted by permission.
The Library of Congress Cataloged the Knopf hardcover as follows:
Sleeping beauties : a novel / by Susanna Moore.
For Ale Kaiser
he paths were matted with leaves. Long black seedpods from the monkeypod trees lay on the rotten garden benches and Clio thought at first that the seedpods were centipedes. The pond where a raft once floated for summer dancing was dry, its banks papered with fluttering strips of frogs’ eggs.
Thief palms, yellow snake trees, and betel-nut palms from Malaysia grew around the house, leaning on it and hiding it, and the buildings of downtown Honolulu so surrounded it that even at midday the garden was in shadow, and inside the house it was as dark as a tomb.
The dry branches hanging from the palms looked like grass hula skirts. Sometimes the rats that lived in the trees wandered onto the porch and into the house. At Christmas, when Clio and her cousin Mamie were invited to tea, the girls ate damp Ritz crackers and watched the rats play in the knotted wisteria vines. “Don’t trouble them,” Emma Fitzroy once said when she noticed them staring at the rats. “They’re just bent-over old-man rats.”
Emma must have seen Clio from one of the rooms in which she was still able to live, for she appeared on the verandah as if by magic.
“What is it, child?” she asked, as if she saw Clio every day. “You’re pale.” As if it were Clio who was the ghost.
Clio held her hands behind her back. She did not want her aunt to see that she was trembling. She was hungry and she had scratched herself on the branches piled against the gate. Clio wiped her face on her cotton sleeve, glancing without self-pity or even surprise at the small dots of blood that blossomed on the cloth.
Having brought nothing with her, she imagined that she asked for nothing as well. Unexpected and uninvited, she hoped only that the mysterious ties of blood of which she had heard so much (Clio saw these ties not as mere symbols but as strands of red sinew stretched taut between families and houses, island to island) would wrap their strong tendrils around her and bind her so that she would not be forced to return to her father and stepmother.
She looked up at the house and considered whether it would collapse with the weight of her bare foot on the verandah step. The very walls, mapped with leafless vines, seemed inconsequential to her, as if the web of vines alone held them upright.
“I want to live with you,” she said.
Emma came down the steps. “Come inside, child.” She took Clio by the hand and led her into the house, and Clio was relieved that the house did not fall on them.
“Wait here,” Emma said, “I will fetch you some water.”
For a moment, Clio thought she saw someone, a woman, standing in the doorway of the music room. Clio had learned to recognize the many spirits of sky and land, and she seemed to carry her own water spirit deep within her, the tides rising and falling with the rush of her blood. She was not afraid of spirits. There were gods and lesser gods, and she knew them. Every manifestation of nature—rocks and headlands, trees, streams, reefs—had its own guardian spirit. There were gods of districts, bays, and shallows; gods of priests and commoners, sharks, lizards, birds. There
were deified ancestors. They had been there at the beginning, in the volcanic green beauty, before the reckless adventurers from the south landed with their women and dogs and children, their seeds and rootstock wrapped in damp
. They had been there before the coming of the white man—before Contact, as Emma would say; before the explorers and the shrewd merchants of timber and sea biscuit, and the pious, vigorous missionaries. Clio was descended from all of them. The spirits, as well as the seafarers, were her ancestors.
Clio considered for a moment asking the ghost if she might stay. It was not dread or fear that made her hesitate. She knew that she would stay at Wisteria House whether the spirits wanted her there or not.
“I would like to change my
,” Clio said quietly when Emma returned with a glass of water.
, her family totem, was the lizard. She had always hoped for something more symbolically powerful for her
, like the shark, although she would have been very happy with the short-eared owl or even the plover. Clio was ashamed to admit it, but she disliked being under the protection of a lizard. She worried that she, too, was a changeable, timid thing.
“The lizard is adaptable, modest, small, nocturnal,” Emma answered carefully. She handed Clio the glass. “He demands very little and he does a great service. He is an amiable, useful creature. He eats flies and mosquitoes.”
Clio drank the warm water. She suspected that she was a lizard who couldn’t even perform the service of eating insects. She was not even sure that she was amiable. She had sat in bed night after night and watched her lizards move fitfully, usefully, across the ceiling. The one trait of the lizard that she did admire was its ability to grow a new tail. Her brother, Dix, liked to eat the discarded tails.
She wondered if she could become a lizard with a new tail. She would send Dix her old tail with the other delicacies she mailed to him at boarding school.
“You may pick another
if you wish,” Emma said. “I, too, as you know, am protected by the lizard. I like him very much. As you know, the giant lizard god, Mo’o, can change at will into different shapes. I myself have seen it.”
“You have seen it?” asked Clio, not in disbelief but in awe.
“Yes,” Emma said. “I myself have seen it.”
Clio decided, for the moment, to keep her
, not least of all because she did not want to miss the chance of seeing Moo herself.
In 1871, Clio’s great-grandmother, a princess of full Hawaiian blood, married Redmond Clarke, a shipwrecked Irish sailor who won favor with the king. Included in her dowry was a coastal plain on the island of O‘ahu that was one day to become the city of Honolulu. Wisteria House was Redmond Clarke’s gift to his bride, and the princess used it as her town residence. Emma, who was the granddaughter of Princess Ruth, had inherited Wisteria House. The princess had been a shrewd, temperamental woman, rather large, and Emma’s mother always liked to say, quite unfairly, that Emma had inherited the princess’s character along with her house.
Clio used to imagine that nothing had come off the ships in Honolulu harbor that did not pass through the rooms of Wisteria House: the first grand piano ever seen in the islands, the first refrigerator, the first carriage and pair, the first Brazil nut. By the time Clio arrived at Wisteria House, faded red and yellow capes from the time of Kamehameha I, woven from the breast feathers of thousands of birds,
lay stiffly over dusty
tables. The capes looked like the crepe paper animals on abandoned carnival floats. Carved idols with abalone-shell eyes and mouths of sharks’ teeth leaned disconsolately against the walls, their upraised arms bound in clotted webs, their shoulders powdered with the dried wings of bats and birds. The
chests, full of folded layers of
cloth, were kept open so that the fragrance of dried
flowers, like anise, could seep through the house, but even so, the rooms smelled to Clio as if damp towels had been kept in them for years.
The rooms where Emma lived, however, were clean and fresh. The wood floors were kept bare. The big
calabashes and bowls were polished every day with bags of flannel dipped in
oil. The walls were covered with
matting. There were pale, ghostly rectangles on the walls, lighter in color than the rest of the matting, where there once had been paintings, and Clio, years later, found a photograph in an old auction catalogue of a Gauguin that had once belonged to Emma.
Emma kept her heavy black hair in a chignon, held at the back of her neck with jade hairpins. She wore a white piqué shirtwaist dress and brown-and-white, sometimes navy-and-white, spectator pumps. It was an old-fashioned way to dress, without variation and even without color, but Clio thought it daring in its simplicity and its deliberation. There was not much that Emma had not considered. There was little that surprised her, and although she had a ready understanding of how she wanted things done, the dereliction of others did not call forth her alarm or even her displeasure. She did not need much, not in the way of things, not even in the way of people.