Reviewed by Audrey Davis
A deeply human story of self-care and intent
Kim Chinquee’s Pipette follows Elle, an active woman in her 50s, as she navigates single living and personal relationships, both introspectively and outwardly.
With the rapid onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Elle feels the necessity of maintaining these relationships on top of the desire to regain some sort of normalcy. She enjoys regular biking, writing, teaching, and spending time with her dogs, and takes solace in returning to what she knows.
Eventually, she is motivated by her past experiences, eager to aid in the COVID response, and finds fulfillment pipetting and preparing COVID samples for testing. Through flash-fiction style chapters woven together and infused with colorful imagery, the reader is given the opportunity to connect on a basic human level with the narrator, her surroundings and her life, and find honesty in them as she does.
Some of the scenes are simple, such as “Swat Team” or “Hide Under the Bed,” while others are longer and more complex, yet all of them share the same tone of the mundane warmly becoming the familiar, of humanity, of commonality.
The reader gets a front row seat to another’s journey on a more intimate basis than limited diary entries; in effect, the reader is a part of the story itself—a reader for a writer—in the room with her as she writes and narrates. Because the reader is afforded this outlook, we also get to experience society and its current events through her eyes and her reactions to the “nothing” and the “everything” happening all at once. It is intriguing to observe another’s unique yet recognizable perspective, and the flash-fiction style adds to this uniqueness and helps drive the story forward.
The effects of COVID, including the surrounding political aspects, unrest, and social reform were, and still are, felt globally. These aspects are mentioned in the novel, as they must be due to prevalence, but they are not the focus. Instead, the narrator seems to avoid speaking too much about them, in favor of relief, or hobbies, the kind of mild escapism that many of us so often prefer.
“Quarantine Time,” mirrored in this novel, feels as if it is passing slower, day by day, hours bleeding together, but still it passes—we eventually go back to work, re-open shops and hair salons; we continued adopting dogs and applying for jobs, losing friends and making new ones, moving in and out of spaces, new and old. Elle hints at the unfortunate reality that negative effects don’t seem to disappear, only to take a different form. The narrator knows she is “not ready to be anybody’s ghost yet,” willing to continue on, under new “rules and regulations” in this new form, however she can.
I would recommend this book to someone looking for a brief, meaningful read. Well-written and pensive, this novel shows us there can be beauty in the passage of time, in loving and taking time to care for others, yes, but especially oneself, in the face of adversity. Little moments can make us who we are, and joy and love can definitely be found in the little things, like taking time to watch the clouds. This novel reminds us that we must learn “how to be” if we are to make peace with any difficulties and respond to our environment.
“Being in awe of the enormous sky I can see clear out my window. The pandemonium it makes when a storm breaks. […] Being silly with myself. Playing imaginary golf while playing an imaginary trumpet, eating imaginary (or real) blueberry sherbet in my fluffy velvet robe. Oh, how scrumptious! My place smells so delicious! Can you study my serology? Can you tell that I am free now?”
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