What Elizabeth Gentry understands—what Flaubert and Henry James and Virginia Woolf understood—is that omniscience need not be “authorial.” It need not reject the rhythms of human consciousness. It is allowed to value the interior landscapes of its characters. The narrator of Housebound is a palpable entity, but Elizabeth Gentry is not that narrator. Maggie and her family, we learn in the very first paragraph of the novel, have “succumbed, once and for all, to a silence that turned them into strangers.” They have read too much, experienced too little. Maggie has few clear memories, and she can never remember which are real and which are images and landscapes from books she has read. She does not know herself. She has no syntactical identity. The distant, separate, syntactically distinct narrator is there to illuminate the interior landscapes of Maggie and her family, to speak for them, to elaborate their muted longings; not to subjugate them. This narrator is not Gentry, nor is it God…No, this narrator is something like an angel, or a ghost. It is an interpreter. This narrator knows Maggie intimately, along with her siblings, her parents, her house—even the rat who bites her hand—and takes great pains to stay to true to them all. This narrator moves from family member to family member, freely and seamlessly, going where needed. Without an omniscient, distinct narrator—this narrator—Maggie and her family would be utterly lost, as would the story.
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