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Here is my essay on "The Ice Palace" by Tarjei Vesaas for my "Fiction of Relationship" class:

The Electrifying Charge of Ethereal Relationship in Life and in Death

In Tarjei Vesaas' tender and poetically delightful yet brutal novel "The Ice Palace" we are presented with the relationship of two 11 year old girls, Siss and Unn, before, during and after Unn's disappearance. I was struck by how this relationship involved so little substance.

In Chapter 2, Siss recounts her several brief encounters with Unn before their fateful meeting at Auntie's cottage. She knows something of Unn from rumor and observation at school; she invited Unn to join her clique and encountered resistance when she asked why Unn wouldn't join them (which is reproofed again in Unn's bedroom); the tingling desire and expectation from Unn's eyes in class (Vesaas, 10); and the passing of notes to arrange a meeting. In Chapter 3, we get a brief encounter which is highlighted by the "gleams and radiance" of the mirror, the brief nudity, the review of the album, and the aborted telling of a secret. But what we experience most of all in this tête-à-tête is the back and forth between awkwardness, excitement, anxiety, embarrassment, safety, danger, relief, and calm which embroils the nascent friendship.

Vesaas' recipe for an electrifying relationship seems to involve some curiosity, anticipation, and conflict together with a roiling meeting featuring fits and starts. Does the failure to share a secret or the occurrence of a few tantalizingly electric moments constitute a relationship? Siss and Unn have no subject or topic of common interest, and no joint project, goal, or end for the forging of their friendship. Indeed Siss' abrupt leaving and run home could easily have become an unbridgeable chasm of failed connection.

For me their relationship finally crystalized with Vesaas' minds-eye view of the two girls as they anticipate their next meeting. This mutual desire made it real. His evocative poetic language morphed an almost-maybe-friendship into something palpable and vibrant. Unn's disappearance and Siss' desire to see her again and later the promise to remember provide a poignant depth to their relationship which realistically exists mainly as intention in their minds. It seems that simply mutual desire may be the bedrock of relationship.

Despite the ethereal nature of their relationship, Siss is deeply affected by Unn's disappearance and the relationship becomes more grave with Unn's exit. Death makes their largely ineffable relationship even less concrete, less real. So it seems unlikely that Siss would have enough material to give a eulogy detailing the character of their relationship or even of Unn herself. Yet for Siss their relationship becomes stronger and more absorbing after Unn disappears. Is expectancy more real, tender, and electrifying than actualization?

In sum, a story of expectancy and mutual desire is a fiction of relationship. An expression that highlights the tenuous nature of relationship itself while only tacitly alluding to the electrifying charge of desire that moves human beings in life and in death.
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