In the story “Separate Kingdoms by Valerie Laken, there is a family who struggles with trying to understand each other after the father, Colt, loses his thumbs due to a machine at work. Laken has arranged her story so that simultaneous action will take place between the two separate columns, as she tells the story of the family. The simultaneous action takes place through the eyes of the father, Colt, and the son, Jack. It is interesting to note how we never really think about more than one thing happening at a time. I like how Laken made us aware of how more than one thing can take place at the same time. Even though many events in the story are in two different places, there are times in the text where they come together. At about mid-point in the story the parents are arguing and the son can hear every word. The story collides when the father says “Take it! Take the goddamn money you and little drummer boy and drive yourselves straight to paradise set yourselves up! I’m fine right here. (Laken11)”, and this takes place between the mom and dad as they argue and Jack over hears everything. This quote is also a god example of how the family collides. It has become more difficult for t hem to get along ever since the accident. With the fathers suffering and lose of his thumbs the family stays on thin ice and arguments are likely to happen (between mom and dad). Ultimately a lack of human connections and prevent us from understanding the suffering of others. Therefore Laken wants the reader to take from this story to not allow issues rip your family apart.
When first reading Laken’s text column by column you do not realize that both events in the son’s and father’s life are happening at the same time. So once reading the story page by page I got a sense of what the author was trying to do. You get a visual or image when reading the story, like when Jack, the son, is drumming. Laken writes out every time he hits the drum “Duh. Guh. Duh. Guh…duh guh duh guh (Laken6)”, and you can just picture the boy beating the drums. The boy beating the drum also goes across a couple lines in the two columns which shows simultaneous action joining together the son and fathers lives at this moment. Laken wants us to be able to see two distinctive different perspectives, and be able to relate with the father and son. Many issues take place in the family because the son and mother do not quite know how to relate to the dad. I feel that they want to help and be able to understand, so at the end of the story (through the son’s perspective) they want to know how it feels to operate without thumbs. Navigating a task is difficult to do without thumbs and so Cheri (mom) and Jack,
“go to the kitchen and find some masking tape in the drawer by the garbage can. We each tape our left hands by ourselves, putting the thumb across our palms diagonally toward our pinkies. And then she tapes my right hand bandaged up. There’s a lot of snickering. We smell like Band-Aids. My fingers are stiff and awkward. (Laken18).”
They try to make cookies without thumbs, and after experiencing how difficult it was, I feel that they then better understood the fathers suffering.
The loss of the fathers two thumbs are a key issue in “Separate Kingdoms” but it is not the only one. A more broad issue hides between the lines and the simultaneous actions. It is the way that the father lost his thumbs that make it unique. Colt fell into a dream where he was back working during the accident technology was the cause of the loss of the father’s thumbs, and for “nine years on the night shift (11)” Colt worked with machines, and on this night things went south. At the same time where the father is having a horrible dream of his accident due to technology Jack, the son, is making a connection with technology with a little girl from school, in the basement. Jack is a little nervous with the girl but she invites him to listen to the iPod with her, “Come here,” she says, so I lay down next to her and she hands me one ear bud so I have one ear and she has the other and the music rumbles through both our brains, making us together (Laken11).” The two kids share an iPod and this represents a connection of technology, instead of separation from technology like the father experienced. Technology controls everyone in the family throughout the text like with Cheri (mom) and her Tae-bo, Jack (son) and his X-box, and Colt (dad) and his Animal channel. Cheri is so caught up on the thrill of her Tae-bo video that no real bonding time is done with her husband and son. Jack’s mind is so glued to killing zombies on his X-box that he cringes at his mom’s idea to go upstairs to bond with his father. Colt’s fantasy of Animal shows, makes him rather stay separated from his son, and instead understanding “what separates us from animals…Opposable thumbs (Laken12)”. With the loss of Colt’s thumbs there is nothing separating him from the animals now. The simultaneous action of all the family bringing in their own world is common when they are wrapped up in their technology. Technology can clog are brains and make us forget about the importance of the simplest things, even family. Much like our previous story “Shame and Forgetting in the Information Age” by Charles Baxter, technology has taken control of us.
Many issues in life can cause us to live in “Separate Kingdoms”, but we all must realize that family is the most important. Laken is a creative writer and her story line was unique the simultaneous actions of the story was a strategy that is not often used but it is interesting enough to keep the attention of the audience. Colt and his family struggled to communicate and come to an understanding. The family in the story biggest issue was adjusting to this new way of life with the father being separated due to his loss of his thumbs. By the ending of the story the mother and son realize what is keeping them separate from Colt. The arguments may continue to go on, but I think their understanding has become more real. Laken wants the readers to be aware of this issue and to be able to make sense of it. What I get from this text is that families have issues for whatever reason, but it should never keep us separate.