Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Good Grass, California

'Yerba Buena'
(Image from Wikipedia)

I'm still reading David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas, so regular readers will remember that yesterday's blog entry quoted Mitchell as stating that "My character Ewing was (pretty obviously) Melville," referring to the Adam Ewing character of the novel's first story and the 19th-century novelist Herman Melville.

Well, Mitchell possesses a literary sense of humor and uses it to subtly link story to story, as in the following passage from the third story "Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery," which has the public relations person Fay Li reciting from memory everything that she recalls about Luisa Rey, reporter for the gossip rag Spyglass:
Fay Li speaks as if from a mental checklist. "Reporter at Spyglass -- I presume we all know it? Twenty-six, ambitious, more liberal than radical. Daughter of the Lester Rey, foreign correspondent, recently died. Mother remarried an architect after an amicable divorce seven years ago, lives in uptown Ewingsville, B.Y. No siblings. History and economics at Berkeley, summa cum laude. Started on the L.A. Recorder, political pieces in the Tribune and Herald. Single, lives alone, pays her bills on time." (Mitchell, Cloud Atlas, page 126)
The abbreviation "B.Y." stands for "Buenas Yerbas," a fictional city within which the equally fictional community "Ewingsville" is located . . . or so it seems. Ewingsville is (pretty obviously) a pun on Melville, and serves to link this third story back to the first story, "The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing." At least one other reader has partly noted the connection:
Ewingsville, California: Judith Rey -- Luisa's mother -- lives there. It may or may not be named for Adam Ewing, an early resident of California.
That's a connection between "Ewingsville" and "Ewing" (though no mention of Melville) made by a certain "goatgrrl" back in 2004 on BookCrossing, apparently a site where people gather to discuss books.

As for the very nonfictional 'Yerba Buena,' it was claimed by the United States in 1846 during the Mexican-American War, the same year that Melville's first book, Typee, was published, a historical coincidence that might or might not have anything to do with Mitchell's stories.

By the way, a Volkswagen will float, won't it, just long enough for a driver to escape before it sinks . . . right?

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