Sunday, May 9, 2010

Every Living Thing by Cynthia Rylant

Twelve short stories in Every Living Thing are devoted to telling specific tales of how animals have played an integral role in people's lives. In each short chapter, author Cynthia Rylant gets right to the heart of the story, describing in detail how each event in that person's life lead up to the moment of being deliberately affected by that specific animal. And each of their lives from that point on will never be the same. Similar to The Van Gogh Cafe, Rylant separates each of these stories into sections with a small picture of the animal, giving a predictable pattern to the reader of how each living thing's story will be told in the text.

In my favorite short story, Retired, Miss Phala Cutcheon, a retired schoolteacher just got a dog, and named her Velma. The dog was old, and in a way, was also retired. It took some getting used to, but Miss Cutcheon, as well as Velma, were both used to being around children. Velma belonged to a family with three children, and was used to their company before they had to move away to France. Miss Cutcheon, was also used to the company of children, having taught fourth grade for so many years. Even though they had each other's company, something was missing in both of their lives.
  • "Velma's memory of the three children grew fuzzy, and only when she saw a boy or girl passing on the street did her ears prick up as if she shoudl hve known something about the chidlren. But what it was she had forgotten."

  • "Miss Cutcheon's memory, on the other hand, grew better every day, and she seemed not to know anyting except the past. She could recite the names of children in her mind-which seats they sat in, what subjects they were best at, what they'd brought to school for lunch. She could remember their funny ways, and sometimes she would be sitting at her dinette in the morning, quietly eating, when she would burst out with a laugh that filled the room and made Velma jump.
It is not until the two continue their walks together to the school down the road while visiting the children at the playground that they feel a part of children's lives again. Maybe that is what brought both together, and their love for children made their love for each other grow stronger.

Relationships between people and animals develop in the most peculiar ways; Jenny, a young girl in Glen Morgan who grew up to be terrifed of a wild boar in the woods by the Miller farm came to realize, once face to face with it, that unlike her hesitations of being near it, it was equally afraid of people that surround it. "But mostly she is sorry that he lives in fear of bluejays and little girls, when everyone in Glen Morgan lives in fear of him."
When a puppy wanders into the lives of the Lacey family, Doris develops a close relationship between the stray German Shepard mix that she can't let go of --until her parents tell her that he's going to go straight to the pound in the city once the snow storm cleared up. It isn't until Doris's father realizes that the puppy would be put to sleep after arriving there (among the harsh conditions of ten dogs to a crate) that he agrees to let the stray pup live with them in their home.

Rylant's ability to capture the feelings of both the people and animals involved radiates through each of these twelve situations. Although we only meet these individuals for a few short pages, we come away as readers to knowing so much about the character of these individuals involved and how much of an affect an animal can have on the decisions that they make in their own lives. Even if the stories have different situations and results, the same basic themes of friendship, hope, and love permeate throughout each of them.
It is through these stories that a certain appreciation and value is given to those beings who comfort us and inspire us to live life to the fullest. It wasn't until I moved away on my own that I truly valued the company of my two cats. Their love, affection, and independence has brought me through even the most trying times in my life, while their playful and engaging spirits have brought a smile to my face when I need it the most. It's amazing how they know just when you need them the most, and how you can recipricate that devotion in return.

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