January 5, 2015: “The Ways” by Colin Barrett
Here’s what I didn’t like about this story: (1) Little sense of place. Because Pell has to take a bus the 7 miles to Gerry’s school, we understand it must be somewhat rural, but we get no sense of the actual house the family lives in and it took me awhile to guess that the story is set in Ireland. (2) Head hopping. The story begins in Pell’s point of view. She’s the 16-year-old girl in the family and she answers the phone when the call comes that Gerry’s been in a fight at school and someone needs to come get him. Later we’re in older brother Nick’s head when Pell and Gerry show up at his work. Then we shift to Gerry’s head at the end of the day. Normally, in a short story, that would be too many points of view. I understand that this is the point, in this story, that we are mean to experience “the ways” in which these three are coping with the deaths of their parents. Still, I wonder if this was the right choice. (3) Has the passive voice come back into style? If this story were submitted in workshop, I’d say there were too many instances of the verb “to be,” and that this signaled too much telling and not enough showing.
Having said that, I did feel engaged by the story, because the ways in which these kids are coping are compelling and different, revealing very different personalities. Still, we don’t get to stay with any one of them long enough. The story, apparently, is part of a collection that will be published in the US this year, but I wondered if it might not be part of a novel. The stories of these three survivors would definitely pull me into a longer work.
Edited to add: It’s been so long since I’ve blogged about about these stories that I forgot about the online interviews with the authors. Here’s the Q&A with Colin Barrett. In it he addresses the question of the point of view shifts, so it’s worth reading.