Writer, Valerie Laken, in her story, “Separate Kingdoms,” describe a family subjected to a tragedy and in search of a relationship that could make them whole. Colt [father], took short cuts to complete a project at his job, only to loose his thumbs to a cutting machine. His boss and lawyer sideswipe his attempt to convince Cheri [wife], his accident was unintentional. Because of this event, the family struggles with isolation and a search for common ground. Laken’s conveys the impression that, despite tragedies which may befall us in life; being able to reach beyond the borders of your kingdom, in hopes of making a connection, may be the ultimate choice that could pull a family closer and create a stronger relationship. The story is written in split columns to contrast Colt’s perspective and his son Jack’s perspective, describing Colt’s desire to integrate in the animal kingdom and while Jack maintains his sanity within the human kingdom. Column bridges support different vantage points unveiling boundaries set by each family member, in search of a connection and a better life for themselves.
Laken contrasts thoughts of a better life and isolation within Colt’s family. “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). When Colt and Cheri argue, it sends Jack hurtling away to a
different world, a world without arguments and yelling, a place where his family is closely connected doing things together. Colt, lost in his own world, prevents Jack from getting close enough to share his. Jack realizes how critical Colt’s decision is, and how it could have a positive affect on their future, bringing them closer together. “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 creates characters who desire a better life and money in order to show us that we all have dreams and aspirations of having a better life; believing we can only achieve this with vast amounts of money.
Laken points out how Colt is sensitive to animal life and wishes to protect their kingdom and be one of them. Colt seems to have more respect for the dogs than his own family. “You know what separates us from the animals?” “Opposable thumbs” (12). Colt’s desires to connect with the animals instead of his family became apparent to Jack after hearing his father’s statement. Any attempt Jack made to reach across his father’s borders or attempt to cross over to his father’s kingdom would be a difficult task, knowing Colt wanted to be one of them, one of those gators or sharks. Jack at this point
feels the distance between he and his father growing. “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).
Laken makes connections between the separate kingdoms, of Colt, Cheri, and Jack. Colt, with his own self-loathing of the non-animal kingdom, easily loses himself greatly widening the divide between him and his family. “Colt wishes he’d taken the Valium, wishes he were asleep, obliterated, dropped off the edge of the planet so she could make a fresh start without him” (15). Jack, making fantasy his reality, finds his way back to his private kingdom through his video games, the only comfort that he feels keeps him sane. “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” (Jack 3-4 emphasis added). Cheri uses her exercise routine to trap herself in her kingdom, in order to detach herself from Colt’s narcissistic world. “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 relationship within each separate kingdom in order to reveal the choices that create the boundaries between them. In the reject room Colt sympathizing with the animals, in the living room Jack saving the scientists in a zombie world, and Cheri in the basement with her Tae-Bo.
Laken shows the dedication of Colt’s family through their action and their hope of finding a link that could bring them together again. “The money is your dad’s choice.
He’s your dad, and he has his reasons. It really doesn’t matter, the money” (17). Jack bandaged his hands suppressing his thumbs in order to attempt an understanding of what his dad was going through. He genuinely wanted to establish a relationship with his
father, desperately in search of a connection to strengthen the bond between them. “Yesterday I tried to do everything all day without my thumbs” (Jack 17).
Valerie Laken’s story preys on our emotions as human beings, and successfully opens up the reader’s sensitivity toward family connections. Like an architect, she used the structure of with sound imagery, argumentation, and repetition to bridge the connections between characters. Laken effectively portrayed a sense of simultaneous action within each independent kingdom in order to link the thoughts and emotions of her characters. Sound imagery is used gives us a sense of pain and frustration within both kingdoms. For example, Colt’s frustrations when hearing Jack play his instruments and Jack’s pain knowing that his father did not appreciate his love for music. Laken’s piece also clearly conveys the importance of reaching beyond the borders of your own kingdom to seek personal connections that can build relationships and strengthen family bonds whatever your life circumstances may be.