About Patricia Eakins: “Eakins is the author of The Hungry Girls and Other Stories and The Marvelous Adventures of Pierre Baptiste (a novel) which won both the NYU Press Prize for Fiction and the Capricorn Fiction Award of the Writer’s Voice. Her work has appeared in The Iowa Review, Parnassus, Conjunctions, and The Paris Review, which awarded her the Aga Khan Prize for Fiction. In 1997, The Hungry Girls was made into a work of theatre by the performance ensemble Collision Theory, which later commissioned Eakins to write the texts and lyrics for Portrait (with horse and other). These texts appear in the Artist in Wartime Issue of Fiction International under the title “What Remained.””
She was interviewed for The Collidescope here.
“For, after much reflection, he does not hold with the Christians, that all that may be, already is. Rather he submits, all that may be is not yet born.”
Although not exactly picaresque, as the title had me believe, Patricia Eakins’ picturesque novel, The Marvelous Adventures of Pierre Baptiste: Father and Mother, First and Last is, well, MARVELOUS. The author has exercised her imaginative POWERS to the fullest in order to animate the soul of an 18th-century African slave kept on a French isle, as well as the hope and horror surrounding his condition and that of his BRETHREN. But Pierre Baptiste is no ordinary slave, or person, for that matter. He is a self-proclaimed SAVANT whose master gave him permission as a youngling to learn, and so he goes from ABCs to becoming a man of letters, as it were.
There are a handful of moments of MAGICAL REALISM, including the appearance of a giant serpent, Pierre’s oral pregnancy which results in PHILOSO-FISH SAVANTS, and the mythic rituals of his mutilated wife.
Black and white, shadow and light, CHIAROSCURO, the dynamic plays a role in this tale and perhaps the theme can be summed up by this passage, which describes how Pierre’s master, when drawing the flora and fauna of the isle, does not employ shade (even though he employs shades, as it were, people of a darker hue than him who barely exist in his eyes): “Yet in the works of M’sieu, Creation is suffused in a pure, bright, even light, as if all creatures were caught in the terrible stillness before the palsy strikes, the storm breaks, the lava flows, caught in this moment as in Eternity, not the eternity of Paradise, earned by the good, but a terrible stasis, the paralysis of Sun’s merciless glare. Ah, what be any man but damned who casts no shadow? Shadow, shadow, the dark blot of being, stain of the blood waters, deep and heavy and old, mark of suffering, God’s fiery tears, trail of ashes drenching our bones. He who casts no shadow, is he not unquiet in quiet forever, dead in life and live in death?”
Pierre’s goal is to write a SHADOW HISTOIRE of cyclopedish proportions, an historical & philosophical masterwork that will tell the story of his life and the lives of his people, including their culture and mythology, everything that has been misconstrued or utterly ignored/forgotten by white history (once again, we have light without shadow, and thus stasis). A circumstance arises that forces Pierre to flee the isle in a cask, which nearly becomes his casket, but ultimately becomes his WOODEN WOMB, birthing him in an unexpected place, a place where he can still find FREEDOM both physical and mental. It is where he lives for most of, if not all, his remaining years, as both father & mother. As the novel demonstrates, literally and metaphorically, to have one’s shadow shrink means eventual death, and there can be a freedom in that too.
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George Salis is the author of Sea Above, Sun Below. His fiction is featured in The Dark, Black Dandy, Zizzle Literary Magazine, House of Zolo, Three Crows Magazine, and elsewhere. His criticism has appeared in Isacoustic, Atticus Review, and The Tishman Review, and his science article on the mechanics of natural evil was featured in Skeptic. He is currently working on an encyclopedic novel titled Morphological Echoes. He has taught in Bulgaria, China, and Poland. Find him on Facebook, Goodreads, Instagram, Twitter, and at www.GeorgeSalis.com.