Greenglass House by Kate Milford: A road narrative deconstruction: 09/18/17
Greenglass House by Kate Milford is another book I've recently re-read through the medium of the audiobook. The book was narrated by Chris Henry Coffey, who per a Twitter exchange, is on board to do the sequel, Ghosts of Greenglass House.
My re-read of the Milford's novel came during a roadtrip, primarily the day we drove through Wyoming, first to visit Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park, and then to Caspar to experience the total eclipse. It was an experience where I had to stay silent and enjoy the story as it unfolded while my family held heated discussions as to the nature of the story.
When I first read Greenglass House I was in the early days of restarting my road narrative project. While Milford's poetic layering of language and story piqued my interest enough to record some favorite passages on Tumblr, I wasn't established enough in my research yet to recognize the novel as an exemplar of the type of road narrative I am most interested in.
After having read more of Kate Milford's novels, I can see now that she specializes in crossroads narratives. Her stories are set at the intersections where strangers off the road intersect and interact with the people who maintain these roads and hotels or can't or won't leave the town.
The Greenglass House is an inn that specializes in a special kind of traveler — the smuggler. It sits on the top of a hill — at the edge of a forest, near a cliff overlooking the river. It has a stairway and a train to provide access. It's also served by a ferry. It sits above an abandoned subway line. It is basically the bulls eye of so many different crossroads, it's bound to invite trouble.
As I was the primary driver as we were listening to the audiobook, I wasn't able to write down passages. My hardcover copy is in storage but after we purchase a new-to-us home and the books come out of storage, I will be re-reading this book for a third time looking for certain details and scenes.
One central theme to this book are towns and homes that can't be mapped. They defy quantification. These places either let you go where you want or need to go, or they don't. There are times when Greenglass House has a similar but less menacing feel as the House of Leaves.
At the other extreme of this book is wayfaring. After the unexpected, unplanned guests begin arriving at the inn, Milo finds a map drawn on green paper that clearly belongs to the house. The map has what appears to be a compass rose. For anyone paying attention to the layout of the inn, it too is numbered along a compass rose with rooms like 3N, 3E, 3W, 3S — essentially giving the coordinates needed to find any location in the house — the floor number and which corner of the house it's in.
Milford notes in her afterword that she was inspired to write Greenglass House by two prompts: one about stain glass — thus the makeup of the house and its way of telling its stories — and her family's desire to adopt a child from China.
The adoption story — which is Milo Pine's backstory — is also the inspiration for one of this books most fascinating concepts: orphan magic. It works through cleaving. That which has been torn away gains its strength from being separate — but it can also bring strength to whatever it is joined with. Milo brings power to the Inn because he's an adopted orphan or doubly cleaved.
Looking at Milo as an exemplar, I may need to revise my road narrative genre wheel. Or maybe I need to separate out the ways of travel from the types of travelers. The orphan, like Milo, is one who can accomplish things on the road that others cannot. Milo is in good company with heroes like Dorothy Gale, September, Arthur Trubshaw, Finn, to name just a few.