Quote 2

“This is the middle of my life. I think of it as a place, like the middle of a river, the middle of a bridge, halfway across, halfway over. I’m supposed to have accumulated things by no possessions, responsibilities, achievements, experience and wisdom. I’m supposed to be a person of substance.
But since coming back here I don’t feel weightier.”

This quotation appears in Chapter 3, as Elaine settles into Jon’s studio and reflects on her feelings about returning to the city she grew up in. We learn here that Toronto as a place has the ability to take her emotionally back in time to her younger, more frightened self. Although she has achieved many of the things on this list—a successful art career, motherhood, marriage—this reality doesn’t matter to her in Toronto. The ability of Toronto to make her lose the substance of her life reflects how the idea of space-time works in the novel. Physical places take Elaine emotionally back in time, sometimes erasing the reality of who she has become as an adult. The image of standing in the middle of a bridge returns at the end of the novel, when Elaine relives her ravine trauma. Instead of picturing herself at the bottom of the ravine, she stands in the middle of the bridge, accurately reflecting her present position in both time and space.

We can also see Elaine’s insecurity writ large in this quotation. She has a need to accumulate success, to become weighty, as if these trappings of adulthood are what makes her matter as a person. If Toronto pushes her emotionally back in time, then she loses the life experience and success she has accumulated, which, in Elaine’s framework, means her very identity is at risk. By the end of the novel, we understand that her traumatic past has shaped her view of success to be having accumulated a lot of things. Her first understanding of what adulthood might look like comes from Grace’s Eaton’s catalogue game, which equates becoming a lady with owning household objects. Beyond that, for Elaine to consider herself successful, she has to accomplish more than Cordelia has. In her interactions with Cordelia as a teenager and adult, Elaine always tries to position herself as stronger than Cordelia. Since Elaine anticipates seeing Cordelia on this visit to Toronto, she needs to have “won” their game by having metaphorical substance.