Title: Abel's Island.
Author: William Steig.
Genre: Fiction, literature, children's lit, YA, adventure, survival fiction, animals.
Publication Date: 1976.
Summary: This is a story of a mouse, Abelard Hassam di Chirico Flint, who gets swept away in a driving rainstorm while rescuing his wife's scarf, and winds up stranded on a river island for a year. But Abel isn't just any mouse. He's a fastidious Edwardian dandy whose inherited wealth ensures the leisurely comforts he takes such pleasure in. But Abel's high-toned life of leisure turns out to conceal a soul full of true grit: for once faced with the necessity of surviving, Abel strives to rise to the challenge.
My rating: 8.5/10.
♥ He did no thinking. He only knew it was dark and windy and wet, and that he was being knocked about in a world that had lost its manners, in a direction, as far as he could tell, nor north, south, east, or west, but whatever way the wind had a mind to go; and all he could do was wait and learn what its whims were.
♥ Whatever happened no longer surprised him. It was all as familiar as one's very worst dreams.
♥ Meanwhile, he wished he had something to eat—a mushroom omelet, for example, with buttered garlic toast. Being hungry in addition to being marooned like this was really a bit too much. Absent-mindedly, he nibbled at a twig on his branch. Ah, cherry birch! One of his favorite flavors. The familiar taste made him feel a little more at home on his roost in the middle of nowhere.
He munched on the bark of a tender green shoot, his cheek filled with the pulp and the juice. He was eating. He sat there, vaguely smug, convinced that he had the strength, the courage, and the intelligence to survive. His eyes glazed over and he returned to sleep.
♥ It was slow work with the small penknife. Not thinking, he fell to using his teeth. What? He drew back for a moment, in revulsion. Then he continued to gnaw away. He had never before gnawed on anything but food. But the grooves were done in no time, and he didn't honestly mind the taste of the somewhat decayed wood.
♥ Considering the crude materials and the lack of tools, he had to admit it was a fine piece of work. Too bad the bright day was his only witness.
♥ He was intelligent and had imagination. Something would surely occur to him. The situation was by no means hopeless. However, he was clearly not leaving the island that day. He decided to explore it.
♥ Abel fought off a wave of self-pity. Only when he considered the unhappiness he was causing Amanda, his family, his friends, did he finally allow himself some hot tears. Despair was darkening his spirit. Deep down, where truth dwells, he wasn't at all sure he'd be getting off the island soon.
♥ He was suddenly thrilled to see his private, personal star arise in the east. This was a particular star his nanny had chosen for him when he was a child. As a child, he would sometimes talk to this star, but only when he was his most serious, real self, and not being any sort of a show-off or clown. As he grew up, the practice had somehow worn off.
He looked up at his old friend as if to say, "You see my predicament."
The star seemed to respond, "I see."
Abel next put the question: "What shall I do?"
The star seemed to answer, "You will do what you will do." For some reason this reply strengthened Abel's belief in himself. Sleep gently enfolded him. The constellations proceeded across the hushed heavens as if tiptoeing past the dreaming mouse on his high branch.
♥ Why did Amanda love him? He wasn't all that handsome, was he? And he had no particular accomplishments. What sort of mouse was he? Wasn't he really a snob, and a fop, and frivolous on serious occasions, as she had once told him during a quarrel? He had acted silly even at his own wedding, grinning during the solemnities, clowning when cutting the cake. What made him act that way when he did?
♥ It was foolish, he realized, to harbor a grudge toward this river. It had no grudge against him. It happened to be where it was; it had probably been there for eons.
♥ The stubbornness of his character stood him now in good stead. He refused to consider himself defeated. A few minutes of gloomy pondering produced a new idea..
♥ He made a hammock of grass fibers and swung himself in it by pulling on a rope, swaying from side to side like seaweed on the rolling sea, full of vacant wonder. He was stunned with his own solitude, his own silence.
♥ Amanda was dreamy. It often seemed she was dreaming the real world around her, the things that were actually happening. She could dream Abel when he was right there by her side. Abel loved this dreaminess in her. He loved her dreamy eyes.
♥ Rain caused one to reflect on the shadowed, more poignant parts of life—the inescapable sorrows, the speechless longings, the disappointments, the regrets, the cold miseries. It also allowed one the leisure to ponder questions unasked in the bustle of brighter days; and if one were snug under a sound roof, as Abel was, one felt somehow mothered, though mothers were nowhere around, and absolved of responsibilities. Abel had to cherish his dry log.
♥ There was a din of crickets outside, and the pauseless roar of the river, and the stately world was illumined with pearly moonlight; but inside the log it was dark and hushed, like a crypt.
The castaway dreamed all night of Amanda. They were together again, in their home. But their home was not 89 Bank Street, in Mossville; it was a garden, something like the island, and full of flowers. What was marvelous about this otherwise ordinary dream was that Abel knew he was dreaming and was certain that his wife was dreaming the very same dream at the same time, so that they were as close to each other as they'd ever been in the solid world.
♥ He believed in his "visits" with Amanda; he had his birch, and his star, and the conviction grew in him that the earth and the sky knew he was there and also felt friendly; so he was not really alone, and not really entirely lonely. At times he'd be overcome by sudden ecstasy and prance about on high rocks, or skip along the limbs of trees, shouting meaningless syllables. He was, after all, in the prime of his life.
♥ Living in the heart of nature, he began to realize how much was going on in the seeming stillness. Plants grew and bore fruit, branches proliferated, buds became flowers, clouds formed in ever-new ways and patterns, colors changed. He felt a strong need to participate in the designing and arranging of things. The red clay from which he had fashioned pots and dishes inspired him to try his hand at making something just for its own sake, something beautiful.
♥ The watch began to tick. The sounds he had become accustomed to, the roaring and gurgling of the river, the wailing and whining of the winds, the pattering and dripping of rain, the chirruping of birds and the chirring of insects, had natural, irregular rhythms, which were very soothing, but the steady, mechanical tempo of the watch gave him something he had been wanting in this wild place. It and the book helped him feel connected to the civilized world he'd come from. He had no use for the time the watch could tell, but he needed the ticking.
♥ Abel also kept busy taking it easy. Only when taking it easy, he'd learned, could one properly do one's wondering.
♥ Was an owl really a bird? What an odd, unheavenly bird! Abel, back in his log, knelt in prayer and asked a question he had asked before, though never so gently: Why did God make owls, snakes, cats, foxes, fleas, and other such loathsome, abominable creatures? He felt there had to be a reason.
♥ In December, Abel began talking to himself. He had done it before, but only internally. Now he spoke out loud, and the sound of his own voice vibrating in his body felt vital. Addressing himself by name, he would give advice, or ask questions and answer them. Sometimes he argued back and forth, Abel with Abel, and even got quite angry when he disagreed with his own opinions. He often found himself hard to convince.
♥ There was no question he'd be getting off the island, though as yet he had no idea how. He was patient; that is, he considered himself patient. Because what other love-longing, wife-craving, home-sick creature would remain so pacingly calm, so nervously resolute, so crazily sane, as long as Abel had?
♥ He flung the shutter open. How beautiful everything looked after the prolonged darkness. How unspeakably beautiful even the shells on the floor. How vividly actual and therefore marvelous!
Abel opened his doorway and let the light flood in. The day seemed confident of its own splendor. The icicles hanging in the open entrance glittered. One was as big as Abel himself. He ate, and drank cold water from a clay pot. Then he showed the great accumulation of shells out of his house and went to stand before Amanda's statue, which was chest-deep in snow.
"Dear heart, I love you," he exclaimed. "What a lovely day! It's February, isn't it? I need to be moving."
♥ The talk of spring filled Abel with unbearable longing. How deeply one felt when alone!
♥ He thought of his loved ones, his faraway friends. Amanda was his mate, yes, and would always be. His parents, sisters, brothers, and friends would always be his parents, sisters, brothers, and friends, but his feeling for them all had become shadowy. How could he go on having warm, alive feelings for merely remembered beings? Living was more than remembering, imagining.
..Somewhere out there, in the night sky—and it could only be night—were the glittering stars, and among them his, the one he had always known. This star, his, millions of miles away, was yet closer than Amanda, because if he had the will and the strength to get up, uncover his window, and look out, he could see it. He knew, therefore, that it existed. But as for Amanda, father, mother, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, and the rest of society and the animal kingdom, he had to believe they were there, and it was hard to have this faith. As far as he really knew, he himself was the only, lonely, living thing that existed, and in his coma of coldness, he was not so sure of that.
♥ Abel learned that Gower played bass fiddle in a small orchestra whose specialty was country music, had great-grandchildren by the dozen, all of whom were musical, and was happy with his old wife, though they often quarreled and spent whole days sitting around in a huff, trying to remember what they were angry about.
Once Gower asked Abel what his trade or profession was. "I haven't found my vocation yet," Abel answered. "The only real work I've ever done has been here on this island."
♥ Gower did not move. He was in one of his reptilian torpors again. There he crouched with heavy-lidded, unseeing eyes, not asleep, not awake, not dead, not alive, still as a stone, gyrating with the world.
Abel watched in wonder. Gower's eyelids lifted slightly and his tongue suddenly shot forward and nailed a fly, which he swallowed. This feat always impressed Abel, and disgusted him too.
"Could you raise your head a trifle?" he asked again.
It took a week to complete the statue. It was the best Abel had ever done, a perfect representation of stupefied repose. Every wart was lovingly modeled; the eyes bulged properly, the full throat with the delicate wrinkles of age was definitely Gower's. The fulsome belly, the haunches and feet, rested firmly on the ground. There was a vague smile on the broad mouth and in the lines of the closed eyelids that made the frog appear to be meditating on a homey universe.
Abel was so proud of his accomplishment he wished he could show it to Amanda that minute. "Well, what do you think of it?" he asked Gower.
"It's me all right," Gower said. "It's more me than what I see in the mirror. It's what I see when I imagine how I look. It's a work of art, what's what it is!"
Abel allowed the compliment to stand. Looking at his own opus, he saw no reason to pretend modesty.
♥ At night his star appeared. "I'm lonesome," Abel said when he saw it.
"So am I," the star seemed to answer.
♥ For one moment he turned to stare back and was filled with sudden anguish. The island had been his home for a full year. It had given him sustenance, guidance, warmth, like a parent. Something important had happened there. How could he help loving it!
"Goodbye," he said. "I'll be back." And he waded into the water.
♥ When at last he came out of the water and touched the shore he had been yearning toward for the whole round of a passing year, he experienced a burst of astounding joy. He lay on the longed-for ground, flooded with ecstatic feelings of triumph and well-being. Then he broke into uncontrollable laughter. He was a free mouse!
♥ Looking down from the safety of his position, Abel realized that the cat had to do what she did. She was being a cat. It was up to him to be the mouse.