Past as Place in Subduction

In Kristen Millares Young’s Subduction, one of the main characters, Peter, a member of the Makah tribe, talks about the past as a physical place that can hold you. In the heart of the book, Peter says he thinks that he has been pulled “into his past until he was here, but not here, inhabiting the places [the family] had been happy together, for time is a place, he was sure of it, and his soul was stretched thin across it, near to breaking, an aching that was his only memory of love.” To be in the past, for Peter, is to take away from being in the present. And Peter’s past is traumatic—making it all the easier to gravitate to, and all the easier to get stuck in, and rendering it difficult for him to keep a grasp on the present. Subduction explores this idea of people’s histories and stories, whether personal or communal, as places that can anchor or be explored and learned from.

The novel follows two main characters, Peter and Claudia, as they spend time in Neah Bay at the Makah reservation. Claudia is a Latina anthropologist who has just been left by her husband for her sister; she has lost any sense of family that she had. She goes to Neah Bay in order to visit an old interview subject, Maggie, who suffers from dementia. Claudia hopes that after working with Maggie she can finish her book, and success will take her to a place where she doesn’t have to live in the past anymore. Meanwhile, Peter, Maggie’s son, returns to the reservation for the first time in years, having left after his father was tragically killed at home. Peter comes back in order to help his mother and hopefully learn something that lets him fully leave his past behind.

Read the full essay here.