Richard McGuire, Here
Published 2014 by Hamish Hamilton, 304 p
My living-in-a-new-country experience began in Western Australia; it was captivating discovering a society that offered so much novelty and diversification but I couldn’t assimilate the quietness and calmness of the city. I love the agitation of the big places, I love to see people around and to notice their uniqueness, I love the freshness and the stories of dynamic places. So I was thrilled when we moved to Sydney. When cleaning the apartment we rented in a suburb not far from the city center I couldn’t help but asking myself who lived there before us and what their story was. From time to time I find their correspondence in our mail box and I reflect again for a few moments on time and space and the subtle connections they create between people.
Reading Here by Richard McGuire I was absorbed by a time traveling exercise. There is a fixed space – the corner of a room – that is observed for millions of years, a project McGuire, a New Yorker illustrator, had actually started in 1989 when he drew a six-page comic. The first pages present the place, a quiet and unpopulated room that changes its design during decades. Then inhabitants appear (a woman in 1957 asking herself what she was doing there, a cat in 1999 and four grown-ups telling jokes in 1989) and McGuire approaches both past and future, projecting a continuity between them using several frames on the same page.
Practically the room tells the story of our humanity. The flow of time takes us from 80,000,000 BCE when Earth was populated by dinosaurs, carries us through forests inhabited by Native Americans, then to Colonial America, beginning of the 20th century, contemporary days and even to future when people find wallets, watches and keys useless and old-fashioned. Each time segment has a distinct story, like in a big puzzle, which put together create history. The juxtapositions are captivating, appealing to the consciousness of the reader. Where the window of the room was in 1972, in 1402 used to be tree, the perfect hide for a hunter. Where a dinosaur walked, a man spoke on his cell phone millions of years later.
The intrusion of past in present and then in future offers the reader the possibility to move around within the story and explore different temporal episodes. Emotions are involved. Children smile for a photo, a father kisses his son, a man seduces a woman, a woman suffers for a man. There is fear, crying, joy, illness, laughter. Despite the distances in time, people share the same experiences – birth, childhood, maturity and eventually death. The room witnesses generations of children being born in 1949, 1924, 1988, 1945. Then there are parties, fights, TV shows and games. And it seems that in 1775 Benjamin Franklin argued with his son there.
The colours in the book change as periods change, a technique used to mark the way humanity creates history. A single individual might seem insignificant for the enormity of the planet but as McGuire suggests, it takes all the souls to make connections and contribute to evolution. The book has an open end but it is normal, as we are still writing our chronicle.