About Dreams of Delphine
Q: This is a story of a man finding family and home.
RS: As someone who grew up with little of either, the story seemed worth telling.
Q: It’s ironic, isn’t it, that Delphine ultimately delivers to her brother the tranquility, peace, stability and assurance that Merle is seeking?
RS: Maybe Delphine is an agent for Merle, or an agent for Merle’s unborn child. I’m not sure that Presden’s dreams are an accurate recollection of his sister. The dreams might be a haunting summoned by the pregnancy, or a subconscious representation of Merle that Presden has conjured from inside himself.
“The idea of love as something that develops before birth is, for me, very powerful.”
Q: Presden has to forget about external reality in order to save himself. And to save his marriage and the promise of his being a father.
RS: Yes. Obsessing about his dreams, making them the most important thing—the only thing—in his life, seems essential to him. They eclipse the real world to the extent that the decisions he makes about the dike are tainted by them—which is imponderable to Merle and everyone else.
Q: As with most of your novels, there’s lots of magic.
RS: Art without magic leaves me cold. If it’s just human affairs, I get bored. Tell me something I can’t believe or have never imagined. Show me some truth that only magic can reveal, something only a god can divine.
Q: With Presden and Delphine, there’s an echo of the Unborn Twins in Island Fruit Remedy.
RS: The idea of love as something that develops before birth is, for me, very powerful. It was briefly explored in Island Fruit Remedy, but I felt there was a lot more to learn. I wanted to take the journey back with a character. I spoke with a woman who had lost her twin brother, and when she revealed the devastation of that loss, I thought: rediscovering a dead twin—that would be something. It could only happen in the imagination.
Q: In Island Fruit Remedy, the protagonist’s fantasy of Unborn Twins has a negative value.
RS: That served my purpose in that story. But part of me felt bad about using the idea that way. Instead of making twinhood a falsehood, I wanted to see it as truth. For most of us who are born singlets, awareness ripens in solitude. We come into the world alone. Twins experience a togetherness that is baked into their consciousness. They come into the world together, knowing love and feeling connection in a very different way. In Dreams of Delphine, twinhood is real and vital to both children, and the loss of one twin is a fall from grace. In both Island Fruit Remedy and Dreams of Delphine, the womb is the locus of love, and the love the twins feel is an ideal state. So I’ve given a voice now to both valences—the negative and the positive, the dark and the light.
Q: The first chapter, with the eight-year-old twins, reminded me of Too Far, with its evocation of the private world of childhood and the fantastical possibilities.
RS: I’m a believer in the supremacy of the child psyche. I think all leaps of adult imagination look back to ages four to eight. We depend on the psychic state we remember from that age to free ourselves of boundaries and assumptions. It’s a memory of the child’s freedom that allows us to temporarily erase the borders of the self and consider unlikely or impossible things.
Q: The journey back, in the company of the Wish Terns, has a hint of the old “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny” idea. Presden compares the twins to amphibians.
RS: A lot of the ideas around recapitulation have been discredited, but what remains is the undeniable fact that we begin life in a place like the sea. The more we learn about fetal development, the more we realize that the growth of cognition isn’t abrupt. The unborn are highly aware. Is there some memory, however vague or submerged, that we carry with us—some shadowy recollection of what life was like in the womb?
Q: Infants spend a lot of time dreaming.
RS: They do. There’s no way to compare the fetal REM experience with our own, but the discovery is wildly provocative. There are scientists who think that adult REM is a vestige of fetal REM—that dreaming was created for babies, not adults. What an idea. It’s like a vindication of the Aboriginal myth that we emerge from Dream Time.
Q: The story locations are unusual. And oddly connected.
RS: The Louisiana swamps and the Holland coast are both below sea level, and the technology that was used to take land from the sea is similar. When I was a kid, I read the story about the Dutch boy who saved his village by putting his finger in the dike. And I listened to recordings made in the South in the 20s about water breaching the levees and flooding the land. As an adult, I’ve spent time in both places. I’ve paddled around the bayous outside Lafayette, and I’ve logged time in fishing villages on the old Holland dikes, learning about them from the locals and from Dutch hydrologists. The idea of making your home below sea level, of resisting the sea, is compelling, revealing, foolish, tragic.
Q: The womb of dreams, the creative sea— That’s a return to Arms from the Sea. And you made Merle one of your readers.
RS: Every new reader is a triumph for me, even those I invent (laughs). In Dreams of Delphine, I wanted to draw an explicit connection to the ideas in that earlier book.
Q: The Count is a figure from a bygone era.
RS: I like that he presents himself as an anachronism. The desire to hold back the sea is part of Holland’s history and culture. The Water Boards were created during the Middle Ages. They preceded all current forms of Dutch government. They still exist today, and the head of the Board is still called “the Count.”