Search Party: Stories of Rescue
“The Magic Pebble”
“The Magic Pebble” is from Valerie Trueblood’s collection, Search Party: Stories of Rescue (Counterpoint Press). Trueblood is the author of a previous story collection, Marry or Burn, and the novel, Seven Loves, selected for Barnes & Noble’s Discover Great New Writers program. Her essays, articles, and poetry have appeared in The Northwest Review, The Iowa Review, the Seattle Times, and Seattle Weekly, among others.
Like her first collection, Trueblood’s new collection examines loss and intimate struggles: with contentment, with connection, with confidence in a world she considers not cruel, but treacherous. The new collection confines its characters to their need for deliverance from the sudden ways they have become lost in their precarious lives: The dying radio producer on pilgrimage to Lourdes. The father whose stroke renders him lucid in evaluating his grown sons. The real estate agent who, along with his two children, has become a squatter in vacant houses. And the medical student whose care is entrusted to others after a horrifying attack.
Trueblood said this about her story: “The Magic Pebble” had its origin in two things. One was a trip my family took to Lake Powell, of course. It was not the trip in the story, but it had its moments of peril, as trips on water so often do in life as in literature.
The other was my interest in birds, which never took shape enough to make me a serious student of ornithology or even a bird-watcher, because I had no wish to put names to them. But it let me see and feel them around me and know a few of them well–our chickens in my childhood, my brother’s rooster, owls wherever they could be seen or heard, a pigeon that grew tame by chance–and always somehow benefit. I love the presence of birds in poetry, and must have read the poem I mention in the story, Frost’s “On a Bird Singing in its Sleep,” a hundred times over the years. It seemed natural that the host of a meandering radio anthology would get to birds sooner or later.
Once the woman was telling the story, with the shortness of her life expectancy behind all she allows herself to say, two more things began to figure in it. Her love for her little son and fear for his future–his terror of water, his passage into the care of someone else, an unknown stepmother–took over the whole tone of her consciousness for me. And William Steig’s great children’s story “Sylvester and the Magic Pebble,” which embodies parental love, became the story’s anchor.