The Third Law of Motion, by Meg Files, Anaphora Literary Press, 2011 (reviewed by Mary Sojourner)
Newton’s third law states that for every action (force) in nature there is an equal and opposite reaction.
It is one thing to open a book and find yourself deep in a movie of the story; it is quite another to open a book and realize that you have become the character. Meg Files brings us into the mind, heart, body, longings and profound confusion of Dulcie White, a ’60s teenage girl too quickly becoming a woman.
You may have been Dulcie. I certainly was. She is a smart, curious, sensual young woman caught in a time when it was perilous to be both curious and sensual. She meets track star Lonnie Saxbe at a dancing class her friend has persuaded her to attend. The trajectory of their connection, or more accurately dis-connection, is predictable. Any woman who has gone into an abusive relationship or marriage knows the arc. Rather than describe Dulcie’s careening out of her own life, her own self, a discussion of Files’ craft in shaping Dulcie and Lonnie is more germane.
So often, the young are cursed by what they believe are their informed decisions. They are meteors propelled by desire and the longing to be desired. Files gives us in her perfect pitch renditions of conversations – both outer and inner – an exploration of the deep, intelligent and connected love between Dulcie and her college room-mate; and the hot and dissonant passion between Dulcie and Lonnie. By shifting point of view from Dulcie to Lonnie throughout the book, we are forced to know the young man’s inchoate violence and tangled driven mind.
Files brings us into intimate knowledge of two young people who most resemble the chaos of smoke. It is often easy for women to blame other women for entering and being unable to leave abusive relationships. Any of us who have found ourselves trapped in our own terror of being abandoned – “What if there is no other lover? What if I destroy my lover by leaving? I don’t want to grow old alone.” – whether we are gay or straight may know the sensation of being mired. We may know the equally energizing and terrifying rush of fresh air when we pull ourselves free. We may certainly know the descent that follows the liberation – and how old and new voices from our childhood and the society around us begin to natter in our minds, telling us to return to the mire.
To read The Third Law of Motion is to understand more than why a woman might find herself trapped by her past and present. As Dulcie and Lonnie tell their stories, the reader comes into contact with greater notions of cause and effect. We understand the degree that Second Wave Feminism – Files never preaches ideology – provides light for a dark and potentially deadly path. I imagine some of Files’ younger students reading the book and wondering why Dulcie didn’t go to a women’s shelter, to Planned Parenthood, to an empathetic woman OBGYN. Those of us who lived through the ’50s and ’60s can answer that question. There was nowhere to go. We were alone with what we believed were our choices. We didn’t yet know that there were few choices – and that all of them were part of the swamp that held us fast.
I found myself wanting The Third Law of Motion to be required reading in all academic women’s and gender programs. Meg Files has given the gift – subtle and sorrowful – of a woman’s truth.