In the Room
The small chairs that lines the walls of the shrink’s office were filled with nervous, toe-tapping people, waiting for their turn on ‘the couch.’ I stood in the middle of the room. My large, heavy body is invisible to those around me. Just as well, I concluded. As previously arranged, a therapist appeared in the waiting area and called my name…
A waiting hall of a psychotherapist’s studio, several nervous people, and a flashy, big, pink elephant in the center of it all. This is the surreal scene that writer Susan Nickerson masterfully sketches in her short novel.
However, what lies behind this awkward pink character with surrealist features? What does the writer want to communicate to us with the metaphor of a pink elephant in the room? Susan plunges through her serrated writing style into an abstract territory: that of pain, psychological distress, and addictions. Through implicit clues and dialogue, the writer’s words try to let the reader understand the problem. The body of the elephant is giant but invisible to most. Its appearance should be a warning, but only a particularly sensitive few people can see it. Materializing the metaphorical idiomatic expression of “the elephant in the room,” Susan makes tangible in her story subtle and dangerous sufferings too shocking to be faced.
Inspired by a postcard depicting a drunkard and a pink elephant, Susan continued to elaborate on this metaphor, often used to indicate states of drunken hallucinations, as it happens with Jack London’s pink elephants or the ones in the Dumbo Disney cartoon. Her style, at times ironic and grotesque, resembles a children’s fairy tale. This makes it powerful: Susan’s writing is simple and curious but deals with stomach-punching issues. The sense of estrangement is strong, and it is created by the clash of an almost naïve character, such as the pink elephant, and the abstract and burdensome concept it represents.
Although Susan calls herself an essayist, her story is strongly emotional without ever being explicitly tragic. The writer grasps the fun challenge of the writing game, but one senses that it springs from a deep need. Her short stories echo the fluidity and emotionality of American novelist Wally Lamb. The symbolic weight of this story joins an established literary tradition, which often sees, starting with fairy tales, animals as bearers of allegories and abstract concepts. Recall Franz Kafka’s cockroach, a symbol of alienation and social stigma, or the fierce whale of Moby Dick, a metaphor for the struggle between good and evil. In The Room, the pink elephant is the symbol of defeat. It makes the reader feel frustrated and angry, like when you realize too late that you could have helped someone in pain.
Susan Nickerson was born and raised in Salem (Massachusetts, US) and currently lives in Florida. Her short stories have been published in several magazines and were awarded in Writers-Editors International Writing Competition.
Susan Nickerson is the Gold Writer of the ArtAscent Abstract call for writers. To see the full body of work and profile, get a copy of the ArtAscent Art & Literature Journal Abstract issue.