I imagine it’s the same feeling you’d get sitting in the back seat of a car crash, or watching an asteroid fall to the earth.
“My father kept saying he was going to leave us: at the grocery store, while driving too fast, during the intermission of a Christmas play. I prayed for him to stay, cried and begged, wrapped my arms around his thighs. And then he left. It was February, a week after my ninth birthday.”
And when he does, time doesn’t so much stop as it begins to get curled, tangled. Not only in the endless drives the unnamed narrator and her mother take into the night, the movies they watch over and over and over again, the memorized lines, the same songs they keep listening to, rewind and repeat. Even the breathing. It’s the manipulation of tense and repetition that really carry the effect through, that make you feel it. Nolan is always fixing the locks, high on LSD. How she repeats the words, as if to convince herself it was real. Her father is gone.
I don’t know anything about Motown, let alone music. I know it sounds happy, that sometimes it makes me want to dance. Occasionally I think it comes across as simple or naive. But after listening to the tracks a few times, reading Michelle’s piece, I realize there’s a very fine line between simplicity and starkness. That sometimes surfaces can be quite deep.
Michelle’s work is not simply a powerful story, pure narrative enjoyment, shorn of all figurative or flowery adornment. It’s a seamless execution of the fictive memoir form itself: the narrator isn’t in her story at one point and then reflecting above it in the next. There’s no difference here between character and narrator, the past and the present. As it lives for her, so she lives in it. Her father is gone. He always will be.