About 10 years ago, in creative-writing classes I was teaching, I began to encounter a particular species of student story. The hero was an unshaven man who woke in a strange room with no idea where he was or why. Invariably, something traumatic had happened to him, though he didn’t know exactly what. The rest of the story sought to reconstruct his arrival in these dire circumstances, via scenes that had been chronologically mutilated for maximum profundity.
My standard reaction to such pieces was to jot earnestly flummoxed queries in the margins like “Where are we?” and “Is it possible I’m missing a page?” During office hours, I would confess that while I found the work ambitious, I didn’t entirely understand it. The student author would look at me with the sort of pity summonable only by a college sophomore and utter six dreaded words: “Have you seen the movie ‘Memento’?”
No, I would say, I hadn’t seen that one. They would then recite the plot of “Memento” while I sat quietly in my cubicle mulling suicide.
Ten years later, I continue to receive stories long on vivid camera work and short on coherence. These manuscripts all lack the same thing: an effective narrator.
“Once Upon a Time, There Was a Person Who Said, ‘Once Upon a Time’,” Steve Almond, NYT Magazine, Jan 11, 2013.
Good thing Steve Almond is already married so I can just admire the writing from afar and keep on paying my lifetime single tax (I will continue to refer to LST for at least another week. I’m still hoppin’ mad).
I always got that “Memento” was their “Bladerunner.” Most of their interesting narrators are zombies or vampires. That will mean something within ten years, I guess. (Makes thinking about the new “Gatsby” coming out this summer more intriguing.)