Monday, February 16, 2015


I've been thinking a lot about POV and, in particular, unreliable narrators. It started with What We Hide, in which the story is told from a large number of narrators; none of them is unreliable per se, but each of them sees events slightly differently. I didn't love the multiple-narrator thing—made it harder to get into the story sometimes, and to sympathise with any given narrator—but that was also, I think, kind of the point. Hard not to respect that.

But then, also, it's books like A Perfect Ten: The protagonist, the POV character, could just as easily be the antagonist if the story were told from another character's perspective. It would be an interesting writing exercise—write a story from one perspective, and then flip it around and write from another perspective. A third. It's not the newest of ideas, but it does make one think.

I'm taking a creative writing class at the moment—personal essays. The focus is on 'risky' essays, which tends to (though doesn't always) mean hard topics—abuse, sex, lies, etc. Some of the essays we've workshopped in the class have been really good, and hard, and complicated...and I'm reminded of something (I think) Dorothy Allison said of Trash and something else that (I think) Alison Bechdel said about Fun Home: The former, that she'd never expected it to have so wide an audience or to be so readily available to, say, people in her hometown; the latter, that her mother was less than thrilled with Bechdel airing out the family skeletons.* How much of our stories is our own? How much belongs to, or is shared with, other people? The books I mentioned in the first two paragraphs are fiction, so the authors can craft the characters any way they please...but in memoir it's trickier; you can tell a certain slant of story, but you can't rewrite history or know exactly how somebody else experienced the same things you did.

I'm quite keen on unanswerable questions, I'm afraid...

*I believe I have the gist right in both cases, obviously, but suffice it to say that I am paraphrasing heavily.

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