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Review: Grackles, rabbits, and talking birds
"Tell Me a Story"
(CNN) -- In "The Grackle," a fable so perfect that it is almost wrong to paraphrase it, Lisa Suhay presents us with a story of a young rabbit that is always angry and always unhappy with his surroundings. This rabbit, who hates being inside and hates being outside, spends most of his time on the front porch. When his house catches on fire, his mother insists that he run and find help. The only help he can find is a reclusive grackle, who laughs and tells the rabbit that the house, subject of so much complaining, isn't worth saving. Then the grackle holds up a mirror:
"When Rabbit looked in the mirror he didn't see a bunny looking back. He saw instead a dirty, hairy, green, stinky creature in his bunny clothes."
The rabbit soon realizes how much he treasures what he complains about and explains this to the grackle, who once again holds up the mirror, which now shows a "happy little bunny sitting at the table and eating carrot soup with his mother."
Although this fable can be read as a story about our learning to appreciate what we have before it is too late, it is also a story that suggests that self-reflection -- whether achieved using mirrors or by other means -- can help us regain an understanding of who we are and how we appear to others.
Reflecting upon ourselves
"Tell Me a Story," Lisa Suhay's collection of fables and parables, acts in much the same way as the grackle's mirror. It insists that we reflect upon ourselves, not only by studying ourselves in a mirror, but also by seeing ourselves in others and in the characters that appear in Suhay's stories.
What distinguishes these fables from those read by (and to) children is that Suhay has written them for adults: adults who may have read fables as children, but who have grown up and realized that the world is not a perfect place. People, in other words, who may remember the fables of their youth and have taken their morals to heart, but have found that things don't always go as planned, that life is not fair, and, yes, that bad things do happen to good people.
If children need fables to learn important lessons about love, respect, and responsibility, adults need fables to remind themselves not only of the lessons they once learned, but of fables themselves. After all, they take place in a world where animals, with simple lives and simple roles, teach each other lessons with respect and consideration, and where certain rules -- that kindness will bring kindness in return, and that what may be amusing to me may be cruel to you -- are as real and unbreakable as the laws of gravity.
It takes substantial talent to write these fables for adults. Suhay must bring back the memory of childhood fables, both in style and substance, without insulting the age and experience of her adult readers. One of her talents is her ability to capture the tone of fables while using that tone to achieve something more than the presentation of a lesson. The fables become, in a way unlike any other application of the overused word, inspirational. Never preachy, Suhay presents her stories without the finger-wagging often used to point out faults and shortcomings. In fable terms, she is not a bird content to bring us worms, but a bird who wants to help us find our own.
The "adultness" of Suhay's stories comes not in the subject matter or the lessons -- these are all very reminiscent of children's fables -- but in the knowingness that lurks behind it all. Adults will read these gentle fables, as Suhay describes them, not to relearn old lessons, but rather to take a break from the real world and return to the world of fables, where animals talk and morals are clear.
It is in this way that Suhay's collection is very successful as a whole. When read by adults who may have made the same mistakes as the cats and birds in Suhay's stories, the collection provides a means for both self-reflection and self-motivation. After recognizing that we may sometimes appear to be too much like a grackle, reading "Joey's Healing Story" about a kangaroo searching for forgiveness reminds us that we often make mistakes that cannot be undone, and that in these cases the most important forgiveness is our own.
By presenting ideas like this in the form of fables, Suhay is doing for us what the grackle does for the rabbit. She has provided us with a mirror that we can hold up to ourselves and offer to others. It is a book to keep two copies of -- one to keep in reach when feeling like a grackle, and another to give away when someone else is looking grackly.
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