Those Deserving of the Truth

A woman from the Troubles

From Milkman, by Anna Burns, in which middle sister resists the efforts of her district gossips to capitulate to their unfounded and untrue rumoring about her:

So I don’t know was my three-syllable defense in response to the questions. With it successfully I refused to be evoked, drawn out, shocked in revelation. Instead I minimalised, withheld, subverted thinking, dropped all interaction surplus to requirement with meant they got no public content, no symbolic content, no full-bodiedness, no bloodedness, no passion of the moment, no turn of plot, no sad shade, no angry shade, no panicked shade, no location of anything. Just me, downplayed. Just me, devoid. Just me, uncommingled. This meant that by the end of their round-about goads and their many implied and searching significances, still they had nothing from me and I felt justified in presenting this unfruitfulness to them because it was clear to me by this time that in life some people did not deserve the truth. They weren’t good enough for the truth. Not respectable enough to receive it. To lie or to omit therefore was fine. It was fine.

How often I have lied to people underserving of the truth. Queer folks use lying as a tool in our arsenal of self-defense. In fact, a lot of us do, whether it is for our safety or because the community lacks of worthiness.

If you like wild and crazy and compelling first-person narration in a semi-experimental format, I highly recommend Milkman. If you are old enough to have watched news footage of the The Troubles,’ British double-speak for violence and war in Northern Ireland in the 1970s, I highly recommend Milkman. If mordant humor thrills you, I highly recommend Milkman.

Milkman also offers a compelling narrative important for #metoo and yet another reason to recommend it: how does a young woman name stalking behavior when violence against women was only understood through rape or physical violence?

Again from middle sister:

At eighteen, I had no proper understanding of the ways that constituted encroachment. I had a feeling for them, an intuition, a sense of repugnance for some situations and some people, but I did not know intuition and repugnance counted, did not know I had a right not to like, not to have to put up with, anybody and everybody coming near.

The degree of distrust, rumor and bullying middle sister suffers from family and community who believe her already in bed with Milkman despite her stating her truth to her own mother - who promptly called her a liar - should come as no surprise to anyone who has had to defend themselves against similar accusations.

Of course, Milkman is also about how the violence of the republicans and the unionists depersonalized human lives and twisted normal into abnormal.

Mark O’Connell has written a brilliant review of this wonderfully mordant and profound novel. Burns’ proper noun choices will make greater sense after reading his piece in Slate.}