by Joan Thomas
One problem with overanalyzing everything, as I tend to do, is that deeper meanings aren’t always readily apparent after a single reading. In the example of The Opening Sky, I wasn’t exactly sure what to make of the heavy-handed environmentalist preaching that suddenly appears partway in. Was this merely a measure of the author creating characters who are passionate and clumsy with regards to this issue, or was it Thomas’ beliefs coming across strongly, or some measure of both? Given the overall portrayal of characters––the activist side seems noble, the indifferent side seems superficial and uncaring throughout––I would suggest that the latter’s at least partially true. But, it really isn’t an important point to dwell on, for, although it stuck out enough for me to feel the need to comment on, it didn’t make up a significant part of the plot as the story went on.
And what a great story it was! The Opening Sky concerns the unplanned pregnancy of nineteen year old Sylvie and how it threatens to complicate her schooling and future, and that of the father, Noah. Their families step in and attempt to exert greater control on their lives and decisions, determining who would be responsible for what, and how the child should be raised, if she is to be kept. To further complicate matters, Sylvie and her mother, Liz, have somewhat of a fractious relationship; a great deal of the story explores the event from their past that served to drive a wedge between them, and the deeper consequences that resulted. Probably the most successful aspect of this book was the wonderful characterization Thomas showcases, with everyone brimming with so much personality. This, of course, made her characters feel real, making their actions and interactions feel significant throughout.
One unique touch given to this story is the presentation of conversations, alternating between the usual quotation marks and names of the speakers followed by colons, almost like the script of a movie or play. My theory here, overanalyzing again, is that speech changes in this way depending upon the level of engagement of the characters. The script-dialogue seems to be employed for conversations that are merely superficial, filled with empty niceties, drawing a parallel to actors simply reading their script. Keeping this in mind made conversations change for me, such as when a seemingly token discussion is presented in the traditional quotations, making me initially question the theory; it would later become apparent that the speakers were actually invested in what they were saying. (Perhaps, in a subsequent read-through, it will cause me to either strengthen or discard such an idea, but, for now, it seems reasonable enough.)
Of course, playing around with something integral to a story in such a jarring way can come across as gimmicky or cute, but Thomas utilizes it to add another interesting dimension to a thoughtful narrative. While I wasn’t initially sure what I was getting into with The Opening Sky, I can very sincerely say it was something special by the end.