Novelist, Valerie Laken, in her narrative essay, “Separate Kingdoms,” describes a family looking for a connection to make them whole. They struggle against their isolation to locate a common ground, while torn between to kingdoms, a human kingdom and an animal kingdom. Laken’s purpose is to convey the notion that, despite tragedies in life that can send people scrambling in different directions, reaching beyond the borders of your kingdom to make a connection can be the ultimate sacrifice that can pull a family closer eliminating separation. She uses split columns and column bridges to display separate vantage points and to reveal the divide between each family member, who are in search of a connection and a better life for themselves.
Laken, in her narration, contrasts individual kingdoms within a family who struggle against their isolation with thoughts of money that can make for a better life. “We’d be done with it. Right now. No hassles. Pay off the house and still have a chunk of money” (9). “Tell me, Colt really. What is your plan after that? How long do you think $200,000 will last?” (9) “We could be like those people who take pictures of themselves and hang them up on the walls. If he got that money, we could do all those things, maybe more. It seems like such an easy thing to explain” (16). Laken uses the wanting a better life in order to show that we all have dreams and aspirations of having a better life; and we feel we can only achieve this with vast amounts of money. This connection of money and the search of a good life emphasizes how they’re torn between the wonders of the world and the adventures of the mind.
Laken moves to describe connections made within the separate kingdoms, of Colt, Cheri, and Jack. “Jack is a boy with imagination but he doesn’t understand about the animals, those bumbling, lost-in-the-suburbs moose, or the baby tiger sharks using their fins to walk across the sand. Jack doesn’t understand the envy that swells in Colt every time he watches them” (3). “I go back to the living room and start up the game again. The scientists come out of the mansion, three of them. They need me” (3-4). “From the top of the basement stairs I can hear my mom down there doing exercise. She’s shouting along all cheery with that creepy Tae-Bo guy, calling out all the punches” (3). Laken describes the connection with in each separate kingdom in order to examine choices that reveal the divide between them. In the reject room Colt sympathizing with the animals, in the living room Jack saving the scientists in zombie world, and Cheri in the basement with her Tae-Bo.
Laken points out how Colt is sympathetic to animal life and wishes to defend their kingdom and be one of them. “You know what separates us from the animals?” “Opposable thumbs.” “What occurred to me was, he had crossed over to the other side” (12). “I know why you did it. I think I understand” (17). Jack hearing his father talk about the separation between humans and animals became evident to Jack that his father wanted to be one of them. “The kid was looking at him in a way that burned through the skin. Now he will know. For the rest of his life Jack will know” (17). Colt seems to have more respect for the dogs than his own family. Colt would feel respected by the animals, which widens the divide between them much. “Colt wishes he’d taken the Valium, wishes he were asleep, obliterated, dropped of the edge of the planet so she could make a fresh start without him” (15). He could care less if they took the money and ran. Colt would feel content just laying around on the couch all day collecting disability.
Laken shifts to the dedication shown by Colt’s family to better understand what he’s going through in hopes to find the connection that could bring them together and make them whole again. “The money is your dad’s choice. He’s your dad, and he has his reasons. It really doesn’t matter, the money. Yesterday I tried to do everything all day without my thumbs” (17). Jack bandaged his hands suppressing his thumbs in order to understand what his dad was going through. He really wanted to establish a connection with his father, so he could bond with him.