Madison Smartt Bell’s new spiritual pilgrimageTOKYO - Mae is a Las Vegas blackjack dealer, working amid the rattle of dice and whisper of cards, roaming the desert with a rifle in her time off. When planes crash into the World Trade Center, she revels in the anarchy of the destruction. And she sees, in television footage, the face of an old lover, screaming as the towers fall.
“The Color of Night,” by Madison Smartt Bell, follows Mae as 9/11 sends her back through a past shadowed by abuse and her years in a cult that commits a horrifying crime, and ultimately she tracks down her ex-lover.
Bell, a National Book Award finalist who has written extensively about Haiti, spoke with Reuters about his book and the origins of his compelling, if unusual, heroine.
Q. What was your intention with this book?
A. It just popped into my head. I heard that voice talking to me and then I started writing it down. When you say my intentions, it’s more like her intentions. I think she wants to make her case, that she’s a divine being sort of walking around, having been purified and refined through suffering, and forged in the fire, she just walks through all the mundanity and ordinary suffering of mortal life. That’s her position. Particularly if you sign in to her world view, she’s extremely powerful and even if you don’t, she’s got a certain amount of power. And I think that’s attractive.
What was behind the use of 9/11?
It gave the other end of the story. The front end, chronologically, is all the other stuff that happened back in the (cult). It’s all reawakened by 9/11. The device of having her see her old lover in 9/11 footage and the idea that she’d just been in suspended animation all that time in between ... As if you could just turn her off. That event turns her back on.
What would you say is the common thread in your books?
I always want to be doing something different, although I haven’t always. The Haiti novels ... The first one of those was my 10th book and I was conscious that this was going to force me to try the same thing three times. The books before that were mostly - I understood this later - but they were mostly, in very different ways and different contexts, about spiritual pilgrimage. That’s the way I thought of them. On the surface, you could see them in other ways. The Haiti series was compelled by the historical material in a lot of ways but it does have a lot of voodoo in it and a lot of my spiritual interests that I’d always had were resolved in that experience.