Simple story on its face, ‘Scientific Living’ weaves themes, symbols deep in the narrative

Some books transcend one’s consciousness and haunt one’s dreams.

Everyman’s Rules for Scientific Living by Carrie Tiffany is like that.

Scientific LivingIt’s a novel set in 1930s Australia about a seamstress who makes the best of a marriage to a soil scientist.

The story is filled with oddball characters, steamy sex scenes, science experiments and tragedy.

The writing and descriptions are wonderful but first, I thought I didn’t like the story. I couldn’t figure it out. What was the point? Then I started dreaming about it. My subconscious began connecting the dots. Obscure scenes started making sense.

Here’s an example:

I walk to the river each morning. I like the quiet of the farm without the machines at work. The crop has started to push through of its own accord. Wheat seed that has lain dormant from the past is threaded with the native wallaby grass Robert [the protagonist’s husband] so derided on the train. … If I am walking barefoot I pick out the silvery stems to stand on — they are much softer than the sharp wheat stems, like lengths of strong cotton. When I retrace my steps on my way back, the crushed stems have already risen again, as if I had never been through.

Considering Robert’s “Rules for Scientific Living,” the sharp wheat stems represent science and the wallaby grass represents something more ethereal and enduring — maybe emotion or art or the human spirit.

As I meditated on the story (it filled my dreams last night), other themes and symbols rose to the surface of my consciousness. It’s a talented storyteller who can work such magic. It reminds me a little bit of Life of Pi by Yann Martel.

I still don’t like (or can’t figure out) how perspectives changed from first person, told from the protagonist’s perspective, to an omniscient narrator. But Everyman’s Rules for Scientific Living is worth a look if you’re looking for a thinker.

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