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Recommendations from Under the Radar: Innocence by Jane Mendelsohn

If I explain to you how I first encountered Innocence, then I’ll ruin the ending for you.  So instead, I will simply state that it was recommended to me by Little Willow of Bildungsroman.  LW, Colleen of Chasing Ray, and myself discussed the book.  This is part three of that discussion.  You can read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

Throughout the novel, there are allusions to classic literary and mythological characters.  This is our discussion of those allusions.

Why was I running? I was running from images: a sneaker, a mirror, two words. I remember blood hanging in strings off the bottom of a shoe like gum. I remember two words scrawled across a mirror. Two words: ‘Drink Me’. – Page 4

CM: Right at the beginning, as Beckett is running from the suicides, she remembers two words scrawled on a mirror in blood: “Drink me”. This has got to be an Alice in Wonderland allusion – thoughts on that or am I way off base?

LW: There are Oz references as well, with one less meaningful describing the steam that surrounds her father’s head as he places a hot bowl of food on the table, (page 42) and a few with substance and purpose:

 Beckett mentioning Dorothy alongside Persephone and the Final Girl, the wizard on the computer(page 124 and forward, page 166 and forward, page 178, page 190), and the final line:

And you were there. And you, and you, and you. (Page 199)

CM: Oh crap – how did I miss that final line?

Okay then, let’s look at the bigger picture of what Mendelsohn was doing here. Is Innocence then a salute to several of the final girls in literature – the ones who knew the truth but were discounted or  dismissed? (No one ever believed Dorothy or Alice that’s for sure).

Interesting aside – I know that Looking Glass Wars is a love it or hate it book but one thing that is prevalent in there is Alice’s hatred of Lewis Carroll for turning her life into a story and for everyone thinking it is just hat – no one believes her anymore about where she really came from.

And no one, of course, will believe Beckett. Which makes her wonder if she’s really crazy or not.

 What about all the ‘Drink Me’ mentions in the text – which go beyond the words in Alice to something more as the story progresses. Also Beckett is given the pills to take as Alice must constantly eat and drink to transform herself to fit into Wonderland. Is this all about transformation from innocence?

At the sound of a scream, I was standing in a dark alley, looking at Sunday, Morgan, and Myrrh. This time, a fourth body lay with theirs. It was mine. And a paper label with the words DRINK ME printed on it in beautiful letters was tied around my neck. – Page 45

She made it look like a suicide. She left the pink plastic razor. She arranged the bodies. When she finished, she wrote two words on the mirror. Two words in blood: DRINK ME. – Page 151

CM: Not sure how Persephone fits into this though – thoughts?

You know, there’s all kinds of crazy stuff out there. You can’t just wander around out there and believe what you read. It’s like walking out into the street and talking to just anybody. You wouldn’t do that, would you? – Page 129

LW: I don’t really understand why Persephone was included. When I think of Persephone, I think of the seasons, and of her mother, who wept and waited and wanted for her daughter to return, and her love, who wanted Her to stay in the underworld, not to make her evil but to have her standing beside him.

Innocence lacks the true mother – she’s mentioned at times, but not invoked as a ghost or a guiding force, not Beckett’s role model, no flashbacks used as a narrative tool, etc – and is much more about the evil stepmother. I haven’t done extensive Persephone research, so please tell me if I’m overlooking something!

Another thing: Ladies, if you’re ever in the underworld or in a fairy land, DO NOT EAT THE FOOD!

KH: I think the way Persephone might figure in is that the notion is once innocence is lost, it can’t be regained.  Persephone eats those pomegranate seeds and is forever changed.  Even though she does negotiate a return to the world above ground, she doesn’t get to stay there, and she has seen what it’s like in the world below.  So perhaps that’s how it fits in: Beckett, unlike so many around her, is aware of scarier underpinnings to the world, and can’t forget them.

LW: I wouldn’t really put Dorothy in with Beckettt – not with her character directly, that is. The stories, the disbelief, the characters she “knows” being different, the obvious wizard bits – that all makes sense, but I see Dorothy and Beckett as very different characters, with different circumstances and motivations.

Of all of the characters Beckett ‘speaks’ to and relates to, the Final Girl and Alice make the most sense to me.

It was a mad tea party. The entire room seemed transformed [. . . ] When I opened the door I was on the other side, over the rainbow, down the rabbit hole, into the woods. – Page 182

CM: I put Dorothy in as someone who loses her innocence in OZ. In Kansas she is sad and missing her parents (fitting with Beckett and her lost mother) and so she runs away to that “over the rainbow” place where she thinks everything will be better but in OZ she finds a darker world then she ever imagined…and of course when she gets back she knows that no one will believe her, which is another major theme in the book.

We haven’t mentioned Lolita in here but Mendelsohn brings her up as well. Of course her story is pretty much the ultimate loss of innocence story and it is still being debated on that score today.

[END OF DISCUSSION]

I hope this is not the last discussion of the book I will have with these women.  It is a novel that bears multiple re-reads.  Go to your library now!

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