Mud, Sweat and Tears
The Muddy Season
by Matthew Raymond
reviewed by Seana Graham
She was born in the muddy season, with the rain coming steadily down and the villagers standing at the window looking in. Pulling her blue and wet from her mother and saying quietly, Life is suffering, the midwife smacked her until she cried, then dried her and wrapped her and laid her in her mother’s arms.
We may think at this point we are reading a conventional tale. Although the exact location isn’t revealed, it seems familiar. Some poor African village, perhaps, although that’s only what the scene suggests to me. It could be anywhere where there are still villagers and midwives. A few paragraphs later, though, a second section starts:
Or rather: They were born in the muddy season, with the rain coming down steadily and the villagers standing at the window looking in and the government agent sitting under the front awning in his strange outfit that removed all contour from his body.
With this paragraph we learn that there is not simply one birth, and that this isn’t a pastoral scene, and that the agent has been accompanied by soldiers. His mission is not benign and, even should he relent, the soldiers are there to reinforce his official errand.
The tale is refracted in this way many times, and whether it is ultimately one version or remains split I am not altogether sure. We do not know why the government has sent the agent to take a newborn away (although we learn it has something to do with overpopulation) or precisely what will happen to her when she is gone. What we do know, though, is the powerlessness of all the people involved to change the edict—the villagers, the agent, the soldiers. Several times the story uses the image of the surrounding hills, “seeming to wait patiently, to accept everything that came down upon them.”
But human beings are not hills, and though they too must learn to accept, they can also resist, not absolutely or completely, but in part. Several different strategies of resistance appear in this brief tale, not all of them peaceful. It is clear that at times in the past, the government agent has also colluded with these, even though in this moment he is obdurate. One lesson I think this story tells is that all resistance to power is tactical and provisional. It cannot be systematized in the same way a regime can be.
It is perhaps only because of the season that I find myself reading a Nativity narrative into this work, for the child the story speaks of is not a boy, a savior, or even one child. However the circumstances of the birth seem similarly oppressive, and speak more directly than the Gospel story does of the innocent who are not saved. Victory is always only partial.
The Muddy Season began its published life at Oyster Boy Review and was picked up and put into chapbook form by Black Lawrence Press, an innovative little indie publisher. Chapbooks are cool. Support them. Support literary presses like Oyster Boy Review too. None of them are in it for the money.
Seana Graham is the book review editor at Escape Into Life. She also reviews for the biography website Simply Charly. She attempts to keep up with her various blogs, including Confessions of Ignorance, where she tries to learn a little bit more about the many things she does not know. You can find links to many of her short stories at her blog Story Dump. She has co-authored a trivia book about her native Southern California and is currently working on a screenplay. She lives in Santa Cruz, California.