Quill and Quire

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Exploded View

by Jean McKay

There is no doubt that Jean McKay had an epiphany of sorts when she wrote her latest offering, Exploded View. In this collection of entries exploring the reading and writing life, every letter of the alphabet is explored, in fact, exploded, with a kind of love and abandon, and most certainly joy. With playful illustrations by Roxanna Bikadoroff throughout, this slim volume can be read in one sitting, yet its words promise to resonate long after its readers put the book down.

The first entry, entitled “Auffeurenspraxis,” a musical term referring to the art of performing music as the composer intended, addresses the issue of authorial intent, albeit in a roundabout way. McKay’s image of a young girl who fills her underpants with crabapples leads her to question the young girl’s intention and what she, the author, intended by writing about it. Titillation, perhaps? McKay uses myriad ways of getting to her readers.

And then there’s “Grammar,” in which McKay, who teaches writing classes, explores some of the odd grammatically incorrect combinations her students sometimes coin – “she just let her children run rancid,” “they put him in solidarity confinement,” “she was dressed to the nine irons” – and wonders whether babies are born with their grammatical furniture intact.

McKay is at her very best when she writes about babies. In “File Folders,” she recalls an event in her babyhood, conjuring the image of the “fluttering fontanel.” In “Tell Me a Story,” she describes one mother’s uncanny storytelling ability, engrossing her baby and two older children in the story of a snail’s daily habits. The funniest entry in the collection by far, it evoked unabashed, belly-aching laughter. McKay’s winning combination of lightheartedness and seriousness and her mix of wordplay and a love of music make for a memorable journey through her past and present.