The narrator is the bird that does and does not want to fly the nest. She loves the moment in Treasure Island when Jim absents himself from the family circle, commenting that ‘you have to get away from your cove and open yourself up to strangers,’ but she’s soon moving back in with her parents, and – like Stevenson – she’s haunted by a view of domestic space that seems to open up an avenue towards its opposite: ‘I don’t cherish the ranch house as an architectural form, but my parents’ house ran to so many rooms that, in daylight, I could fall into a stride and imagine myself aboard the Hispaniola.’ Is this a way of retreating from adventure, or a way of looking for it? On occasions like this, Levine’s book becomes at once a quizzical inquiry into the domestic interior and an arch defence of the need to make and take voyages where you can. The playful shifts of scale are akin to those in A Child’s Garden of Verses, where cabin fever is wondrously translated into a feeling for the miracles that can be worked on enclosed spaces: ‘We built a ship upon the stairs,/All made of the back-bedroom chairs.’ Another ambitious voyager exclaims:
O it’s I that am the captain of a tidy little ship, Of a ship that goes a-sailing on the pond; And my ship it keeps a-turning all around and all about; But when I’m a little older, I shall find the secret out How to send my vessel sailing on beyond.
‘What wonderful fancies I have heard evolved out of the pattern upon tea-cups!’ Stevenson remarked in his essay on ‘Child’s Play’. In the poem, we are privy to a fantasy of growing up – or a fantasy of growing more once you’ve grown up – conducted in the security and safety that allows for these flights of fancy. Like much of Stevenson’s art, it understands that the ability to leave home (and the ability to return to it) may be most productively nurtured in a home that furnishes you with the time to dream up such rehearsals and reversals of fortune. As the rhyme intimates, you need a ‘pond’ on which to practise your visions of ‘beyond’. Most of the best lines in Levine’s novel come from somebody who plays things down rather than up. It turns out that the narrator’s mother had an affair many years earlier while her father taught a summer school; she left home for six days, and then returned. The daughter is furious: ‘I can’t believe you are minimising this. You had sex and because you liked it, you left us?’ ‘It wasn’t the end of the world,’ the mother replies. ‘It was just an adventure.’