Books

Grove Press
Grove Press
Grove Press

Logic

A Novel

by Olympia Vernon

“Yes, in the land of American Idol and The Bachelor, there remains a segment of the public that relishes experimental fiction that challenges the heart and the mind. Vernon’s second novel explores the disjointed reality of a teenage black girl in rural Mississippi. After a fall from a tree, the girl’s perceptions are both sharpened and blunted.” –USA Today

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 272
  • Publication Date May 17, 2005
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-4199-6
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $12.00
  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 272
  • Publication Date May 01, 2007
  • ISBN-13 978-1-5558-4754-8
  • US List Price $12.00

About The Book

A taut emotional powerhouse of a second novel about an unusual young girl grappling with her burgeoning adolescence, by an author whose writing The New York Times Book Review called “a startling reminder of how forceful Southern magic can be”

After The New York Times Book Review raved that Olympia Vernon’s first novel, Eden, was “a startling reminder of how forceful Southern magic can be,” Vernon returns to the Deep South for the story of Logic, a young girl struggling to free herself from the unspeakable condition she refers to as “the butterflies floating inside” her.

As a child Logic Harris survived a fall from a tree–an accident that precipitated her transformation into a young girl lost in her own world. Logic’s mother has secretly wished that Logic had not survived, and she now ignores the increasingly apparent evidence of the aberrant attention Logic’s father bestows upon his daughter in her adolescence. As her mother retreats into her work as a neighborhood midwife and Logic’s father collapses into paranoia, Logic is left to navigate alone what she scarcely understands. In inspired prose, stunning in its imaginative authority, Logic is a chilling allegory about the dangers of silence and a searing portrait of a girl lost in shame and fear, and a family and community too scarred by their own wounds to save her.

Tags Literary

Praise

“Olympia Vernon’s 2003 novel Eden put the reading world on notice that a bright and original voice had arrived. Her second novel, Logic, only confirms that strong promise. . . . Vernon draws on her considerable strengths as a writer here: She is unafraid of the graphic sexual image; indeed, she seems drawn to the dark places where humanity faces its greatest test.” –Susan Larson, New Orleans Times Picayune

‘vernon’s imagery is more dense and dreamlike than even [Toni] Morrison’s most haunting spells. . . . Distinctions dissolve, material associations give way to almost mystical connections, and a kind of divine oneness glows off the page. Like Logic herself, the reader is no longer earthbound but levitating in a higher reason. The effect is both bewildering and bewitching. Vernon may take her story into uncharted territories of the imagination, but Logic will surely put her on the literary map.” –Rachel Howard, San Francisco Chronicle

‘vernon writes with astonishing, original poetry that finds the perpetrator and victim in everyone.

Steeped in religious, surreal imagery and references to ordering principles–atoms, alphabets, life’s basic materials–Vernon’s abstract language asks precise questions about the chances for survival in a lawless world where safety, love, and even joy are concepts, not realities.” –Gillian Engberg, Booklist

“Yes, in the land of American Idol and The Bachelor, there remains a segment of the public that relishes experimental fiction that challenges the heart and the mind. Vernon’s second novel explores the disjointed reality of a teenage black girl in rural Mississippi. After a fall from a tree, the girl’s perceptions are both sharpened and blunted.” –USA Today

“[Tightly] written and . . . provocative in its language . . . Logic is the sort of literary book that readers will read and re-read, always finding new twists and meanings. . . . Vernon takes readers out of their air-conditioned detachment and thrusts them into this troubling environment where they can learn something from her characters’ experience.” –Greg Langley, Baton Rouge Sunday Advocate

“This intense and dramatic story is riddled with darkly rich characters, strange but unmistakably real. Crafter by a brilliant author, the characters come alive, stunning and shocking the reader with their desperate intensity. This is an emotionally driven prose winning comparisons to Toni Morrison.” –Blytheville Courier News

‘vernon’s follow-up to her acclaimed debut, 2003’s Eden . . . will undoubtedly remind readers of early Toni Morrison, particularly The Bluest Eye. . . . Vernon’s alchemical imagination transforms passages . . . into a whole as startlingly original, disconcerting and haunting as a fever dream.” –Publishers Weekly

“A literary MASTERPIECE! The story, the prose is off the chain. Eden was just a hint at the depth of her talent and skill. Logic is only the second step in confirming the possibility that Vernon could be approaching literary genius. Morrison and Everett may have to make room. I hate to say it so early in the year, but Logic may be the best book of 2004.” –Thumper, aalbc.com

Awards

Winner of the 2004 Richard and Hinda Rosenthal Foundation Award from the American Academy of Arts
Twice been granted the Matt Clark Memorial Scholarship
Nominated for the Robert O. Butler Award in Fiction in 2000

Excerpt

chapter
one

David Harris was loading his pistol when the sun began to burn.

He paused for a moment, the light coming toward him. My God, he could have run right now and caught it, his hands and body and full self trapped by it. But he knew, down there where words turn to jelly, that he had nowhere to put it.

Just then he heard his daughter, Logic, ask Too how to spell heaven.

He looked at his wife, Too, how molecular she was. Too was a maid and midwife for the folks in Valsin County, Mississippi. Every­thing that went into her mouth was broken into tiny pieces–the bones in her face fragile, the empty breasts, as if there was no fat beneath her nipples to push her self-esteem forward. Open your mouth and record the distance between air and lung, and you will notice an invisible line wrapped so tightly around the bones in Too Harris’s throat that the transparency of the distance itself will cause you to suffocate.


She took the cast-iron skillet off the fire and turned away from the stove, the sound of birds trampling on a large oak tree, and faced her daughter, the child she had named Logic, because she had seen the word on one of the Missis’ magazines: a pale woman on the cover, her face upright and crooked, as if someone had dropped her entire body on concrete and cracked it at the jawbone.

Finally, she answered Logic’s question. “I s’pose you spell something like that by lookin” up,” she said. And then, as if confirming the space of thought in her head, she repeated, “Yeah, you spell heaven by lookin” up.”

Logic’s father, David, had loaded the pistol.

He laid the gun down on the table beside her. Now he was thinking of the manner in which he entered the world. He could ­almost remember sound, its first coming, instinctual, a finger going down his throat, forcing him to cry.

He felt the finger again, on his palate, as the voice of a man fell down upon his ears and made him cry even louder this time, the sound of a boy losing his strength.

He picked up the gun and looked out into the heat: the wooden boards of the house were rotting from the inside. He had built this triangular house with what was left of his hands; he was sort of a mathematician. He had set each board perfectly into the map of the house, except one that lay unevenly on the rooftop; he had found it on the side of the road. A metal loop had been hammered into it, a chain looped through the center. Steel.

“Where you headed?” The voice of his wife, Too, caused a gap in his breathing.

“Nowhere,” he said.

With this, he opened the door to the house he had built with his own hands–to prove to himself that he was not completely a wasted mold of clay. He whispered something, his hand up to his mouth for a moment, as if he had been working on something combustible and it exploded in his face.

* * *

Logic was in her bedroom lying on her back. She had long since touched her belly and discovered a cloud of butterflies floating around inside.

She could feel them again.

She began to laugh. She solved almost everything this way, with laughter. She felt a wing fluttering in her ovary. She touched her abdomen and began to follow the rhythm of blood flowing there. Or something else.

Her room was the coldest. Even in summer, a breeze rode the space of her intimate bedroom, as she opened her mouth and caught it.

She had not completely healed from the accident. Her mother came home from work one day and found her lying in the dust; she had fallen from the oak tree, her head filled with blood. Too thought she had been struck by a metal rod or an animal and washed the redness from her head; when Logic came to, she said she had fallen from the sky.

Too gave her an elixir and waited for her to fall asleep.

Something was there in the room. She heard it breathing and could almost see the thing she had heard pick up the square-shaped pillow with both hands, stand there above Logic’s head, and come down upon it. There was a terrible gasp. You must bear down, kill the girl before she gasps again. In a little while she will be dead, and Too Harris will be in a white woman’s window, watching the energy of a moving cloud. What had she done?

Then, as if impossible, Too Harris realized that she alone was in the room.

And she alone was holding the pillow.

She hurried, as if urgency would cause her to forget, and collected a sewing needle, returning to Logic’s bedside, where she had set the tools of surgery on an alabaster-white cloth: fishing twine, alcohol, fresh cotton, a leech.

Logic was fast asleep when Too picked up the parasite and watched as it sucked the poison out of her child’s head. She soaked the cotton with alcohol and pressed down on the cut. Next, the threading of the needle. The fishing twine entered the needle’s eye; she lifted the soft flesh of Logic’s scalp. The wound began to rise.

She had closed it up.

A few days later, she noticed that the child who had come from her stomach was no longer balanced in her footsteps. Part of her body seemed to have been metallicized. When she found her, she was in the shape of 45 degrees. Her words were not the same; they did not come from her body in the pattern of stars: every syllable surrounding her attitude, attached like a vein, a molecule.

But for her laughter, Logic had become invisible.

The butterflies had stopped their fluttering. Logic lifted herself from the bed. She looked around at the life-sized doll in the corner of the room. Of all the things around her–the lime-colored dinosaur with a horizontal bar of pink tape over its mouth; the musical clef note that she had traced from a tombstone; a paring knife, its sharp edge stained with blue ink, violated. But the doll–the doll she loved–the only thing given to her by her father after she had fallen from the sky.

She called it Celesta.

Her mother was in the next room. The house was built this way: three rooms on one side, the third being the operating room, where she had lain, after being sewn back together, on a long steel table her father had bought from a man in Pyke County. The man was convinced he had seen the feet of Jesus in the center of it and could not keep it because he was a sinner and did not want God in his house: he was plastic.

“Logic!” yelled Too. “You best be gettin” to bed now.”

The doll was in Logic’s hands. She looked at the face where she had painted her lips candy-apple red, the dark pupils she had slowly begun to gouge out because they were artificial, the almond-
colored skin. “I know.”

Soon after, she began to undress. She looked at herself in the mirror–her breasts were beginning to swell. Her body was emaciated; she felt she had a pyramid in her bones. The straight, invisible line that connected her nipples, the perfect navel in the center of her stomach, creating the image of a measurement that was equal on all sides–she had inherited the genes of her father the mathematician.

She parted the hairs on her head and touched the feeling. Yes, it was the parasite that had left its feeling upon her. She felt it tickling her at times: the blood racing, pounding upward. She could control the feeling when she wanted.

By swallowing.

There on the edge of her dresser lay the panties and gown that her mother had readied for her. She was thirteen now, but she had not learned the stability of time, how things were to be put in order. She lived in a place where time did not exist; she dreamed, on many occasions, of death and believed it came in threes. This is the memory that lived within her: three spirits into the Ultimate one, the number of days at a time that she’d stopped eating, the pointed invisible lines of the triangle, the alphabets of YOU–those which she added to herself, her vocabulary with a distinction that required no urgency, as it passed through her lungs–a slow rising of the tongue, as if a baby had slept there unmoved.

She knelt down, her hands folded, and began to talk to God.

Her mother lay on the other side of the wall, her flat body against the sheets. Her room was without light. She turned to ask God something and grew faceless, as if she did not exist at all in this unbehaved environment, as if it were God in the room with her in the early day, watching her hold the pillow: He saw she had suffocated the child, if only in her dreams.

For a spell, that season which comes and goes when a woman is restless, fascinated by her own accident, she wanted to crawl into bed with her daughter, ask her to pray for the thing that held the moment in its hands, so it would not come back again. Perhaps she knew that, were it to return, there would be a gasp that would split the belly of a quiet cloud and land high, up there where things go noticed, and come down, like oxygen, upon the earth and crush it.

Logic blew out the flame of a small lantern that stood beside her bed. The scent of the kerosene rose in the air, as she imagined herself opening up from the inside, where she believed there was a bed of larvae. Soon she would need an open door, a valve, to release them into the earth again. The image lay bound to the ink of the paring knife–its wings soon to be carved on the surface of her stomach.

When her father came home, his feet winding down, stopping near the operating room, she turned over and reminded herself to staple Celesta’s lips together by morning.


Copyright ” 2004 by Olympia Vernon. Reprinted with permission from Grove Atlantic, Inc. All rights reserved.

Reading Group Guide

QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION

1. ‘secrets lie dormant in Mississippi. You never know the full truth about anything. There is what your folks choose to tell you and what you yourself discover. One or the other is poisonous, vain” (p. 173). Is this passage a key to the book as a whole? How are secrets destructive? Are they ever seen as necessary or positive? “You never know the full truth about anything.” Is that observation limited to these characters in Mississippi?

2. Is Logic a story of successive initiations for the title character? She has a literal Fall from which she says she has fallen from the sky, and subsequently she is linked to angel wings of her own making. Discuss the implications of these symbols.

3. Do you see Logic as a victim solely? Certainly she is victimized. Does she have a force beyond that? We are told that self-awareness, real consciousness of one’s fate is necessary for tragedy.

To what degree do Logic and other characters show awareness of their choices and their fate?

4. What are the religious issues in the story? Is it only a ritual comfort that some of the characters turn to? Which ones? Is something more profound being suggested about grace or salvation? Are there ironic implications about the role of religion in the lives of these people?

5. The Missis is white and rich enough to hire help around her house. Is their role only menial in her life? Is she viewed as happier or more competent than those she hires? Is she drawn as someone at ease in her world?

6. One paradox is that Logic, the wounded, “the retarded,” seems to have special powers of understanding. Is this partly because the narration is funneled through her story? Are her limitations sometimes her strengths? Can you give examples? There is a tradition in literature that fools or “the retarded” are often touched with special innocence or holiness. Do you see that tradition at work in this book?

7. What is Vernon suggesting about family in the book? Are there loyalties that transcend betrayals? When? What is the role of nurture and protection? When is that basic expectation violated?

8. Rape is a recurring event, to the point of seeming inevitable. Cite the various times characters are sexually assaulted. What are the consequences? What kind of world is it where the males need to rape or own guns to feel like men? And what has happened to the men themselves, individually or culturally, to make them this way?

9. Other kinds of violence pervade the novel, as well. Cite examples, both actual and imagined. Would you agree that almost every character indulges in imagined violence? (Consider The Tallest, David, Logic, Too, the ex-con and even his mother). Which ones make the imagined violence actual?

10. Logic’s doll becomes a character of her own. How does Celesta function in the novel?

11. How would you describe the tone of the book? Is it primarily ominous? Do you see moments of levity? If so, how would you describe them?

12. What does the title mean? As a name, it was chosen randomly by Too. How? How does the word act as an ironic check on events and yet lead to alternative truths? It is a book of fantasized ideas for various characters. How does it still suggest a “logic” of its own?

13. Does the book make you think of certain artists or schools of art? Can you imagine paintings inspired by the novel? By Chagall perhaps? Others?

14. Do you think it would be effective to stage the book as a dramatic reading? Some of the incantatory language might resonate powerfully. Which would be your favorite scenes to stage?

15. How would the story change if it were told from the point of view of Too? David? The Tallest? The old woman? Do you think you derive enough sense of their attitudes from the narrative as it unfolds now? What are some of your lingering questions about the characters or events?

16. Think about the imagery and the clusters of imagery in the book. Consider light, lightning bugs, and butterflies. Others? Are they associated alone or together with particular characters? What do you think might be their significance?

17. It was Chekhov who said that if a gun is introduced in the opening scene, it has to go off before the end of the story. Did the opening images of the gun and the spelling of heaven stay suspended in your mind during the novel?

18. Can you identify critical moments of sudden vision for the characters? Which ones? Are these moments of moral revelation? Further bleakness or despair? Are there elements of hope for some?

19. Much of the novel is suggestive, allusive and symbolic, occurring in dreams or imagination. Did you find that you slipped into this realm of suggestion easily? Does the world of dream and imagination seem like an expansion of life for the characters or a limitation? Is it an escape at times? How would you compare the imaginings of David to those of Too? Or those of the ex-con?

20. After the initial abusive behavior of The Tallest, how would you describe his relationship with Logic? (See pages 180 –181.) What do you think The Tallest tells Logic to do if anyone calls her ‘retarded” again?

21. What is the significance of the ex-con? He comes into the story to dig holes and work barbed wire. Is there a symbolism to his labors? He has an active interior life, remembering his mother, wife, and daughter and his book of Italian philosophy. (See Chapter 23.) “A white woman had taught her how to speak Latin; she, in turn, taught him. And they, at night, took turns reading the philosopher’s words. She was made of magic. And Pilot, the child she brought into the world, was also made of magic. She was a curious child. Even at birth, she was equipped with light. So he put lightning bugs around her to watch her eyes burn. She was Christ to him. But even Christ could not bring the totality of restraint to the world” (p.139). Does the character of the ex-con seem to suggest that education might be a way out? Or is it a snare and a delusion? How do circumstances quash this family? Is his hope of work for free a valid hope of redemption?

22. “The lamb is called for. And is struck a heavy blow” (p. 3). The novel opens with this image of sacrifice. Is the sacrifice symbolism carried out in the story?

23. In some ways Logic and her family are buffered from elements of segregation. How does her trip to town with The Tallest serve as an initiation to a wider, not necessarily better world? What is it she learns? What is The Tallest’s role in her experience? “But Logic was ready to leave the other side. Although it was packed with cars and newspaper boys and Mister Bears and Miss Tildas, there was a loneliness in the world. At least, she could always talk to Celesta. . . . whose birthdate was coming up soon” (p. 201). What is paradoxical in Logic’s thinking of home as sanctuary? Is this often the trap for abuse victims?

24. What is the origin of Logic’s starving herself? Does this behavior have inherent sense, however irrational to outsiders? “Celesta was in the bed, Logic had begun to talk to her. She was starving too’ (p.214). What about the Missis who also stops eating? (See p. 223.) Do you see the end as doom? Or salvation for Logic?