In this segment of The Story Behind the Story, Jessica Kinnison talks about what motivated her to write “Net.”
I write about a subject when I want to figure it out.
I’ve never been to Maine. I’ve never admired a woman beneath a net—outside of my mother, back when we were into four-poster beds and Southern Living style suggestions when I was a kid in Mississippi.
I’ve never been a man. I’ve never owned a boat or a bell on stilts. I don’t even know what the Rockland Aquarium smells like.
Despite of all these nevers, when I saw the woman sleeping in Andrew Wyeth’s painting “Daydream,” the net of this world opened.
Around that time, I was developing a collection of short stories about people on the American Gulf Coast who live near water. This story showed me that I wasn’t writing about natural disaster or geography. At the core of my work, I was writing to figure out an unknown: how one human can ever know another human.
From the start of what became an Andrew Wyeth obsession, I felt I knew the woman inside the “Daydream.” Her skin is purple and orange and red and feels as familiar as live skin. The way her right foot is tucked behind her left, so casually, led me to imagine that someone loves her enough to notice how her feet tuck and curl as she sleeps. Whether that’s true or not, that launched this little story called “Net.”
I asked myself questions:
Who loves her? Alvar. Where is he? He’s not in the bed, so he must be on the outside of the net.
Why is she even inside a net? What is she separated from?
Alvar and Fiona are working class. Their windows are open. Their place is dusty and worn like the space in Wyeth’s painting “Wind from the Sea.” And, man, isn’t that wind stirring up all the hidden parts of this room?
She is separated from everything—the whole world. Her skin defines her isolation with its perfect algorithm of shadows. Even the curve of her hip rejects the square box of the window above it. She wants to see Alvar stripped of the trappings of their lives: the whitewashed items and weather outside the net. She closes her eyes, daydreaming of a new Alvar, unsoiled.
What does Alvar want? He wants Fiona. He wants to see her. Fiona means “white or fair” in Gaelic. Fiona is so fair she is transparent. She haunts him. She’s the one thing he wants to know, but she is so far out of reach even pulling back the net won’t reveal her.
This snapshot of warm air and introspection is juxtaposed against the white walls, the foggy paintings, and the wind: all the static of their lives together.
In response, Alvar closes his eyes, too. What he hears is as pleasurable as looking at the muted watercolors and egg tempera of an Andrew Wyeth painting, and as temporary and endless as an ocean wave.