The Man Who Knew Mary
Taylor, Donald Cloyd
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The novel, The Man Who Knew Mary, is a fancy of science and art. It is a novel of analogy and simulacrum, of coincidence and synchronicity. Beginning as an ethnobotanist, John Whitney, the central character through whose consciousness and unconsciousness the relevancies of the work flow, ends as a simple chaste husband-protector of an orphaned girl whose time for giving birth is imminent. There is an expedition into southwest Siberia undertaken by a team of eight scientists. From all parts of the world the men come and meet at Khandhad, a city at the rim of Asia. This surface reality is seen as through old varnish, or as through a haze of the hashish the scientists constantly smoke. What is more clear and more cleanly visualized are the stances taken by the dramatic sets of dialogues into which the character-actors enter. These dialogues build and thicken and a theme emerges: There is a wondrous correspondence between man and certain organisms in the world of botany. These also are evidenced by rich mythological, Biblical, and linguistical allusions, and by turns of word plays botanically and humanly sexual. It may be said that the novel is signally a novel of words in the sense that words are seen here as male principles which want lodging in fertile matter to impregnate. This implanting by words is the manner of the Immaculate Conception and the manner, in a mystical poetic sense, of parthenocarpy - reproduction in the plant world without sexual union. Such parthenocarpy is common in fungi. It is through one species of mushroom, the Amanita muscaria, the divine mushroom, that John Whitney comes to his personal annunciation - words of mission into his ear spoken. Following a great storm the expedition is abandoned. One scientist, an Englishman named David Hailender, after an agaric eating ritual, rushes out into the wind and snow. Whitney attempts a rescue, but because of the ingestlon of the agaric, fails and fails himself unconscious in a forest of birch. Here he receives the vision which signals for him the beginning of his mission. Whitney convalesces at an outpost while the other scientists return home. A letter comes for Hailender. Whitney takes it and learns that a girl is coming to Khandhad to meet Hailender. She is homeless and pregnant. The pattern which has been building Whitney begins to realize. He must go to Khandhad and take the girl. This is a fully conscious, fully intentional act, taken to bring the design to full focus. The girl comes and Whitney takes her to a university somewhere in the western world where he had, before the expedition, scheduled a series of lectures. While working on the fifth and last lecture and in heavy use of hashish and opium, the pressure of the underlying design pushes to the surface and, whether succumbing to the force as something from the outside or falling before the workings of his own imagination and belief, Whitney falters and drifts irrevocably away from this science and enters into a nether-land of a poetic fancy controlled by distant and near memory and by acute visual perception. Whitney comes to his particular set of attitudes by what he had heard and by what he sees in the girl. He believes in the Immaculate Conception; believes it has happened in the girl. He believes he has discovered the way of the intimacies between Mary, the mother of Jesus and Joseph, her husband-protector. Whitney focuses, finally, the full design. The cycle has come again to be lived. His role is to be abeyant, to be forever aware of the sexual mortality of the girl in his charge but to be forever abeyant.
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