Making a Stone of the Heart
by Cynthia Flood
Published by Key Porter Fiction
340 pages, 2002
The Heart Knows
Reviewed by Linda L. Richards
In Making a Stone of the Heart, author Cynthia Flood's characters don't just breathe, they bristle with life. They menstruate, urinate, masturbate; they pass gallstones, have abortions, give birth, have bowel movements. And sometimes, they shit. At times, Flood seems fascinated with the minutiae of the human body and all of the functions that most writers either gloss over or ignore altogether. The result of all of this blood and feces-letting is a novel so real -- wrought lovingly by expert hands -- it's sometimes difficult to look at it straight on.
Lying awake, Dora felt her body the way another woman would page through familiar poetry. She stroked her arms, she touched her loose throat skin and her knobbed clavicle. Over her breasts her hands slipped, down to the dry open lips with their soft hair. At last Dora's fingers rested on her torso, studying the quality of the baby's hardness. Unlike all the other things under that skin, all her organs, the stone child didn't feel. There wasn't any give.
At the heart of all of this reality -- the stone heart, to be precise -- is something so unreal, it defies fabrication. Nestled within one of the characters for 60 years is a lithopedion: the mummified remains of an unborn child. A stone child. The child is the product of an illicit tryst between Dora, a married woman and the mother of three children, and Owen, an angry drifter whom Dora went to school with many years before. Much of the novel revolves around the effect this unborn child has on the lives of the two people who created it -- Dora and Owen -- though, after the child is conceived, the two never meet again.
Making a Stone of the Heart opens in a nursing home in 1996 and follows through to Owen's death, then moves to Vancouver in 1902 and the somewhat ugly circumstances around Owen's birth. The balance of the book takes a similar random-feeling progression: characters dying before they're introduced, others complaining of the unfairness of their circumstances before we understand their situations. Who, the reader wonders early in the book, are the sympathetic characters? Who are the villains? Flood creates a delicate cacophony that feels, when it comes together, like a sophisticated piece of music: a celebrated concerto conducted by a master. Like classical music, the strands can, from time to time, feel unrelated and even painful to the ear. When the baton falls, however, we're left with a soft haunting that follows us from the concert hall. Making a Stone of the Heart is like that.
First Owen tenderly kissed all Dora's bruises. He licked her rasped neck, hurting from those other, those rough hands. She cried. He kissed her tears so the salty pearls fell into his mouth. "There there," Owen muttered into her wet cheek, "there there. S'all right. Won't let that bastard hurt you any more." Owen loved kissing women's eyes; they moved under the lids, under his lips. Then up went his fingers into her hair. He felt all over for the pins and put them into her waiting palm and Owen combed her hair down with his hands. The warm filaments ran, floated, over his skin.
The three central characters -- Dora, Owen and a doctor about their age named Jonathan -- are, on the surface, connected only tenuously. Their lives are, however, linked by strong coincidences that the three are hardly aware of. Their paths cross more often than they realize and the near misses that fate hands them -- the connections they never really make with each other, the things that might have been that they don't even know about -- provide a bittersweet foundation for this elegantly told tale. | October 2002
Linda L. Richards is the editor of January Magazine and the author of several books.