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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

The R(ead)sling List: Neil Gaiman

By Emma Soberano

Neil Gaiman is known for writing modern magical realism, and this week’s novel, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, is no exception. Though the narrator is a middle-aged man returning home for a funeral, much of the book centers on a brief and incredible experience in his childhood.

The unnamed narrator escapes from the droning milieu of middle age into a forgotten memory when he visits his old neighborhood and, finding his childhood home has been replaced by a housing development, wanders to the house at the end of the lane. He spent time there with a girl, Lettie, when he was seven, and she eleven – though, we soon find, she had been eleven for a very long time already – after his parent’s subletter committed suicide and set off a supernatural chain of events whose repercussions would haunt the narrator for the rest of his life.

Though these memories return to the narrator as he sits contemplatively in front of his childhood friend Lettie’s duck pond, which she called an ocean, the remembrances soon whisk both the narrator and reader off across years and, seemingly, worlds. The world we encounter through Gaiman’s writing is one which bears a striking resemblance to a vivid childhood nightmare. In this reality, not only does a duck pond become an ocean and kittens grow out of the ground like carrots, such dream logic is often left unquestioned. Accepting Gaiman’s world feels like slipping in and out of sleep, never knowing whether the next encounter will be heartwarming or terrifying. More often than not, this story serves the latter. Here, childhood fears of evil babysitters, parental anger and the monsters which hide in the dark are all warped and made real.

Despite the darkness which lingers like a shadow at the corner of every page, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a beautiful story. This is a tale about childhood, friendship and the youthful struggle to understand the world when it does not seem to understand you. Though monsters do reside between the covers of this book, there are also friends: the narrator discovers Lettie, her mother and her grandmother’s deep wells of love, sacrifice and feminine strength. With them as his guide – and as ours – he is party to the adventure of a lifetime, secrets kept since the beginning of time and a family more welcoming than any he has ever known. Gaiman’s writing is beautiful – simple, yet delicate and descriptive – and it strikes the perfect balance between the joys and terrors of childhood and the reminiscence of middle age.

I had a very hard time coming up with a wine to pair with this book. In part, I found the pairing difficult because I wanted to stay true to the essence of childhood captured so lovingly in Gaiman’s novel. The other difficulty was in the availability of my strangely specific tastes at a college-friendly price point. Ideally, I would have picked a dry, sparkling rosé. I was looking for something moderately simple, though not too sugary and hoped for the fun of bubbles to counterbalance the novel’s darkness and complement its ethereal beauty.

However, it can be hard to find a properly dry rosé at a price which does not induce cringing. If you find one, please let me know. Instead, I chose LBD Vineyards’s 2011 Pinot Grigio, hoping for pear notes which signify the end of summer and thus the dim awareness of the closing of carefree months.

Pinot Grigio is not usually my favorite white wine, but LBD makes it work. This wine complicates its seemingly simple nature with acidity; it smells like citrus rinds and fresh herbs and has a distinct mineral aftertaste. Yet in casual sipping, it simply tastes of pears, lemon and tangerine juices and perhaps green apple peel. Its acidity matches well with Gaimain’s darker moments and the summery taste of pear, when combined with refreshing citrus, harken back to the more magical moments of youth.

Wine: LBD 2011 Pinot Grigio, $11 at McNally’s

Alcohol-Free Alternative: Half lemonade, half sparkling water. Add mint.

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