Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Creative narration in "Girls Only"

I subscribe to the magazine One Story, and I particularly liked the piece featured in issue #157: "Girls Only," by Karen Shepard. Shepard weaves a narrative spell by using a definitely non-standard point of view. The story's about a group of young women who became friends more or less because no one else wanted to become friends with them. They're kind of rotten to each other, but the story admits they don't know how else to get along. 

Anyway, this excerpt might make you think the story uses standard, everyday third-person omniscient POV:

They watched some more, all of them thinking some very unbridesmaidly things, some of them ashamed of themselves and some of them not.

But I say this story uses something else. The narration seems, too often, to come from inside the characters, or inside a character who's just like the main characters but is not one of them. Consider this:

"The playground," Anna repeated. "What was he doing there?"

"Playing?" Cleo suggested.

Sometimes Anna hated Cleo, she really did.

See? That's more attitude than you usually get from third-person omniscient. Plus, the narrator is not omniscient, as we see here:

"Where've you been?" Ticien asked, as if she already knew, and maybe she did. She was more like Cleo than any of the others.

At key points in "Girls Only," the narration can be more judgmental than the characters (which is saying something), but it can also be more sympathetic. The narrator, if it were a person, might be a better friend to these women than they are to each other, and I think that's a difficult, effective, and interesting trick to pull off. It certainly makes "Girls Only" into a kind of story it could never have been had it used a much more standard approach to point of view, at least in my opinion.

Have you read this story? Do you agree with me, or do you think something else is going on?

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