It was eleven-fifteen on Sunday night. The professor closed the front door to her humble abode behind her. Leaning against it she surveyed the clutter on her coffee table that had developed throughout the busy week. Stacks of papers for her Strategic Management class sat, neatly bound by her students, on the right corner of the table. Even from the door she could see the top one’s subject was Coca-Cola. She set down purse near the door and made her way to the couch. Before slumping back with great enthusiasm, she set down the pile of even more paper she had carried in her arms from her office.
What’s another heap of crap? The professor thought to herself as she turned on the TV. She stared forward mindlessly, the left side of her coffee table catching her eye, intimidating her into addressing its presence.
The last thing she had placed on what had become the recreational side of her coffee table, was The Best American Short Stories 2006. She appreciated short stories. Since taking on the challenge of reading 10,000 pages in one year it was easier to feel accomplished reading two short stories in an evening than eight chapters of, say, At Dawn We Slept. Although, Gordon W. Prange’s life’s work on the untold story of Pearl Harbor would knock out 800 pages.
I’m about to read 500 pages in three weeks, she thought, regarding the final papers she had to grade. And that’s just for one class. Would class assignments count toward her goal? Before contemplating long enough on the topic, she fell into a well-deserved slumber. Waking up in the morning, once again, on her couch.
This week’s theme has to do with third person perspective which, as I hope we all know, is the telling of a story using “he said, he did, he thought, etc” type of writing. This week Megan Meehan, a junior and creative writing major, has allowed us to take a peek at her short story about post-apocalyptic times. The scene below is the moment where the protagonist, Tobias, tries to convince his wife that they must leave their home and find a safer living condition.
“You really shouldn’t be all that concerned Tobias.” Maureen had said. She had been cutting tomatoes for a sauce; Triston and Kira’s laughter could be heard in the back yard.
“You know how these stories are blown up, they make it sound worse than it is. Just wait, we will all wake up and nothing will have changed.” She gave him a smile, Tobias stared at her hands, the juice from the tomatoes soaking her fingers. It had been rumored that several countries who were enemies to the United States had successfully arranged a date in which to bomb several areas of the U.S. It had been on the news for most of that week and many were panicking, while others just ignored what seemed like an unbelievable thing.
Tobias grabbed his pack, taking out his compass; he stared at the glass, flicking off specs of dirt.
He began to remember the week before the disaster, packing up survival gear in the garage. He had begged Maureen to come with him, to take the kids, and go as a family.
“We have to leave now Maureen! We are all just waiting around for our deaths! We are waiting for the death of our children!” Maureen stared fearfully at him, she had watched him become more and more paranoid as the days had gone on and had brought the children to her mother’s house.
“What has happened to you Tobias?” Her voice was shaky, “It’s as if I don’t know you anymore, you’re this paranoid stranger.” Tobias thought of grabbing her, he made a slight lunge for her hand, but she screamed and ran to the kitchen, grabbing a steak knife from the drawer. She ran back to the hallway, arms stretched out in front of her, clutching the knife with both hands. Tobias felt helpless, guilty, he was going to leave her here.
“Please, Maureen.” He spoke softly, his lip trembling.
“Don’t make me leave you behind. I don’t want to leave you behind.” Maureen stood firm, arms shaking, eyes wide. He knew she would never go with him, and he knew he would never stay. Tobias left that night, to the shelter he had made in the woods five hours away. He remembered stepping out into the black ash snow a few days later, and knew she hadn‘t made it.
Both of these are excerpts are examples of omniscient third person narrative. Lately, along with a few books, I’ve been reading a lot of short stories and I came across one by Dan Chaon called “My Sister’s Honeymoon: A Videotape”. The entirety of the story consists of the main character watching a video of his sister’s honeymoon and telling the reader what he sees. It’s a brilliant case of third person, however, it isn’t omniscient because he cannot tell us what the people in the video are actually thinking. This provides a completely different perspective and breaks up the flow of time from the original filming of the video to the moment when the brother is narrating what he sees on screen. You can find this short story in Dan Chaon’s collection of short stories called Fitting Ends.
Thank you to Elizabeth Toohey for letting me borrow her copy.
The summer is coming so I’ll suggest a few books right quick:
• Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
• The Submission by Amy Waldman (or take Contemporary Issues next time it is offered at Prin because you will read this, and it’s phenomenal.)
• The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
• Scar Tissue by Anthony Kiedis (for those of you who like the Red Hot Chili Peppers and autobiographies, try it out. It’s great. Perfect for summer)