Marianne Engel’s Plentiful Picnics

26 Nov Marianne Engel’s Plentiful Picnics

“An occasional psychiatric patient at the hospital,” Marianne Engel is the steadfast, generous, brilliant and beautiful woman who walks into the burn victim’s hospital room & claims him for her own: she nurses him, feeds him, entertains him with stories of eternal love,¬† never wavering from her claim they were united, 700 years ago…

When he first argues with Nan, his physician, that Marianne should be permitted to visit, he bargains for Marianne’s presence, promising to work harder with his physiotherapist, the skilful, Sayuri. Never sure quite how to label Marianne’s “insanity”, our protagonist can’t quite decide if she is schizophrenic or manic-depressive. She hears divine voices, disappears for days at a time to carve gargoyles out of stone, is preoccupied with religion–and smokes heavily…the humor of her “popping out of the burn unit” to light up a smoke duly noted. In fact, chain smoking seems to be her biggest flaw and I’m curious to see how that particular habit came about. But I love the way the author builds the relationship, beginning with the protagonist’s (we still don’t know his name!) fear of her to his growing affection as she weaves her way into his world, one story, many generous acts, at a time.

Never repulsed, Marianne is steadfast in her commitment to her love–even minus…manly appendage. Bringing small gifts, like the gargoyle she carves him, and patiently sharing her wisdom, she matter-of-factly reminds him of his long-forgotten past. A scene steeped in sensory detail (which made me think Andrew Davidson is a foodie) involves the first time Marianne arrives at the burn unit bearing a delectable bounty of food; a picnic of gigantic proportions. As burn victims heal, they experience a condition known as “hypermetabolism” in which they can consume¬† 7, 000 calories a day! Clearly the author had some fun with this, describing the delicious array of foods brought forth from Marianne Engel’s picnic basket:

“She danced a swirl of black across the surface of the yellow, and then dipped a chunk of the focaccia into the leopard liquid… bastardly plump green olives…oysters, crabs, and scallops drowning a wonderful death in a marinara ocean…Dolmathes, trying hard to be swarthy and macho in their little green suits, scented with sweetred wine….” and on it goes. I was hungry by the time the last morsel of food was unpacked. Of course, the lovers couldn’t possibly eat everything. Marianne Engel makes sure the nurses enjoy the remains–before telling her lover the story of Graziana and Francesco, two Italian lovers destined to live and die together.

It’s not the last scene in which a luscious array of food is brought forth and it’s not the most thoughtful act Marianne Engel employs…stay tuned!