A Review of Scott Fotheringham’s The Rest is Silence (Goose Lane Editions, 2012)
By Derek Newman-Stille
Memories are a significant part of our experience, particularly when things are changing rapidly. Scott Fotheringham’s The Rest is Silence is a novel about rapid changes – personal, social, and environmental. Two narratives intertwine in this novel: that of a man in the Nova Scotia woods who has learned to live off of the land and an earlier narrative of a woman who is obsessed with getting rid of plastic from the world. She eventually succeeded and the man in the Nova Scotia woods is coping with the impact of that decision. The future is one in which a bacteria is consuming all plastic and the world is struggling as things are rapidly changing. Scott Fotheringham invites his readers to look at how dependent we have become on plastic and how many uses we have put plastic to in our basic, everyday life from the plastic on electric wires to the plastic covering our food, we live with plastic in every part of our day. Environmental patterns change, and even behavioural patterns change as characters are required to shift their daily activities and the way they interact with the world. Computers are now rare, and even telephone lines can be dodgy.
Characters in both narratives alternate between a desire to share memory and also a need for secrecy. Memory is both experienced and simultaneously hidden and also run from. Memory becomes like a weight holding them down, demanding to be voiced no matter how much they desire to run from it.
Obsession becomes a means for Benita (Benny) to hide from her own past and the pain she has experienced in the past and she becomes obsessed with plastic as the thing that is preventing the world from being a better place. She develops an eating disorder and an addiction to chronic exercise as a means of controlling her own body and as an extension of her obsessive personality. She is literally constantly running away from herself, entering marathons to run away from her past and try to hide from her history of medical issues and the death of her father. She is a person who has experienced infertility and sees herself as a form of Frankenstein giving birth to a technological monster that will be her progeny – the plastic-consuming bacteria. Changing the future becomes her means of hiding from her own past and the inadequacies she feels for herself. She hates her own body, so she has sought to change the environmental body around her.
In addition to memory, forethought and curiosity about the future serves a key role in this novel. As a youth, the narrator would play a game involving imagining a future where something was absent, essentially speculating on a future where a key thing that we have come to rely on no longer exists. This is made manifest when Benny is able to remove plastic from the world and change society.
Being a scientist himself, Scott Fotheringham does a fantastic critique of science and scientific discourse. In particular, he examines the fact that science is often driven by economics and that the purity of research is often lost when scientific endeavours are pushed toward causes that will generate large amounts of money. He examines the barrier between social change and technological change and invites the reader to speculate about whether the environmental problems of the world need to be reversed by a change in the way society views the environment or whether we need a technological solution to reduce rubbish. He also examines the need that science and society have for creating firm categories and limiting things and he explores the ludicrousy of some of the categories that come to exclude people (such as firm gender categories that ignore the possibility of trans, intersex, and hermaphroditic people despite the scientific evidence of a history of diverse forms of sexual expression among human beings and animals). After reading this book, one begins to question the authority of science and our social belief that science can fix everything and make the world better.
This is an apocalyptic novel in the same way that human action is apocalyptic – we are destroying ourselves and our world because it is convenient and Scott Fotheringham does a fantastic job of reminding us that this desire for convenience is the main motivator for our environmental destruction.
I don’t want to give away too many secrets since this book has a number of shifts and changes that should excite and delight you.
You can explore this novel and others at http://gooselane.com/ and you can find out more about Scott Fotheringham on his website at http://scottfotheringham.blogspot.ca/ .