Monthly Archives: July 2009

Thoughts on “Mystery Guest”

Grégoire Bouillier’s The Mystery Guest is a small but powerful volume about love lost and – eventually – gotten over.  Bouillier’s ex-girlfriend calls one day and invites him to be the “mystery guest” at a party of a friend of hers.  This invitation causes Bouillier to go on a frantic and manic head trip wondering why she invited him, whether he should go, and – when he decides to go – what gift to buy the woman he does not know.

The memoir is both funny and thought-provoking.  Bouillier’s mania results in many memorable sections on turtlenecks as undershirts and the rationale behind gift wrap.  But, as the story unfolds and he comes face-to-face with the ex-girlfriend who left with no discussion several years prior, Bouillier also gives the reader a meditation on how we move on from past love.

Thoughts on “Twin Study: Stories”

Twin Study: Stories is a collection of short stories by Stacey Richter which has garnered attention for her interesting narrators.  I agree that her narrators are not standard in any way, but a few of them cross the line between wacky and annoying.  A few, like the one in “Habits and Habitat of the Southwestern Bad Boy,” I find unsympathetic and hard to listen to.  This may have been by Richter’s design, but if I’m going to read a store told by someone a bit offensive, I need to feel some modicum of sympathy for them.  This is not the case in a couple of Richter’s narrators.  These narrators are in the minority, though, and many of them, such as the one in the title story “Twin Study,” are both funny and sympathetic.  Richter’s stories shine when the reader can see through the quirky voice of the narrator into her pain.

One story that is of particular note is “Velvet,” the second story in the volume.  Velvet is a dog on an adventure and the story is told by a third person narrator who remains close to Velvet’s point of view.  The tone of the story performs a very fine balancing act between being a sappy animated movie about a dog and a cynical look at life through a dog’s eyes.  The story is a realistic look at adventure and its consequences and Richter manages to make it a thoughtful story for adults without turning it into a negative caricature. This story in-and-of-itself, in its demonstration of Richter’s control of her craft, makes the volume one to pick up and enjoy.

Story Worlds

The other night, I broke down and ordered a “stupid movie” On Demand.  I like these kinds of movies – the ones that are for pure entertainment and don’t make you think all that hard.  So, I rented “Push,” mostly because I like movies about superpowers.

Overall, I found the movie to be slowly plotted and my attention drifted in the last 30 minutes. What I did respect about the movie was the story world that was created.  In the story world, certain people have particular powers.  For examples, those people called Sniffers have the ability to smell something and “read” the life of the object.  Pushers can make you think and believe certain things.  These powers are basically the same as those found in “Heroes” and, to some extent, “The X-Men.”  What was interesting was two-fold:  First, it is clear that the writers and creators have a whole backstory to the world in their story, not all of which is communicated to the viewers.  People in this world have certain vocabulary which they use.  Second, these details are revealed gradually, not because they offer any kind of suspense or play any role in the plot of the story.  They are revealed in somewhat the same way as they would be revealed in real life as if the viewer had been dropped into the scenario.  There is an explanatory monologue at the beginning of the movie given by one of the characters, but this monologue is only cursory.  Not every detail about the story world or its history is revealed in that monologue.

This led me to consider the story worlds in all stories, even those that do not have a fantasy or sci-fi element to them.  Characters have a history – all of which cannot be revealed to the reader.  So, what does an author choose to reveal?  How is it revealed?  Why is it revealed in that way?  What effect can a particular technique of revealing the story world have on the reader?  How does that technique create mood?  These are all questions which have been brought to my mind as a result of this “stupid movie”.