The novel has a splash of colours on the cover, drawn by the author herself, depicting Rhododendron flowers, from which the title of the book is derived. The plural of Rhodendron might be a pointer to sundry memories and characters that people the canvas, and in singular this would be just the protagonist. If we allow our imagination to stretch a bit, it might mean the protagonist and her dear ones, as all are colourful like the Rhododendrons.
In a vignette-based narrative that takes us from Daniel’s childhood through early adulthood, we find moments of surrealism amid vivid violence within a delicate, rhythmic language that supports the wonder and naivety of the narrator. Daniel’s first circle is drawn by his father, a literal circle in the soil his father says is “all the room you have now” and forms a boundary on his grief after his mother leaves the family.
To sum it all up, The Proud and the Dumb is a fast-paced and funny political horror story that plays well with genre tropes while presenting its “monsters” with a opportunity for redemption. It is part dark comedy and part battle cry for reform. This short but sweet tale shines a light on the issues facing society today in a wholly entertaining yet less than fleshed out way. It seems to offer a brilliant but kind of stilted suggestion for how we might change course.
For the conscientious writer, many experiences of loss and pain can be conveyed only by using a special language, one that stretches somewhat beyond the norm. To accomplish this, Dafoe chooses the method of writing her story as fantasy; she never strays from her course: that of allowing her characters to come to terms with their devastating losses and helping them promote their dream of peace to others.
The writing in both these novellas is masterfully self-effacing. Nothing is forced and nothing draws attention to itself, yet it is all perfect, natural, necessary. It reminds me of the films of Kelly Reichardt, whose shots and compositions share the same sense of unexpected revelation amid the everyday.
Written by Kiri English-Hawke when she was a schoolgirl, this short, insightful narrative affirms that the current generation of young people are still affected and troubled by the Holocaust of WW2 when ordinary citizens’ lives were scarred by an horrific and hideous conflict that made no sense. It is a remarkable achievement as it offers a very positive picture on the resilience of the human spirit in the landscape of war.