Lauren Groff’s “Delicate Edible Birds”

In Lauren Groff’s “Delicate Edible Birds,” the primary tension in the environment is that the Germans are invading France. This tension contributes or perhaps facilitates the conflict between the characters, who are journalists involved in various romantic conflicts. Though the tensions are clear, they are not concise and as a result appear to me to be a little convoluted and confusing. While it was very interesting when Bern was exposed and all men turned on her, I wish that the tension that built up to this point was a little more precise and to the point. The character of Bern is well-developed and contributes greatly to the plot in general. The title is a reference to her affair with a mayor at age 16 and her independence, as a woman and a character, is well-established. The conflicts between characters comes to a climax and results in betrayal, which is how the tension is resolved. Bern sacrifices herself for the good of the group and this sacrifice leaves her feeling more conflicted. In that respect I think that the story succeeds at what it’s attempting to achieve. Nevertheless, all of the tensions found within the story seem to somehow undermine one another, making me wonder if it would be better off as a novella instead.

Advertisements

Joshua Ferris’ “The Valetudinarian”

Joshua Ferris’ “The Valetudinarian” has many conflicts all of them involving the main character, Arty Groys. In the beginning, Arty loses his wife and must fend for himself; in the middle of the story, Arty is worried about his health and complains about it to anyone who would listen; in the end of the story, Arty sees a prostitute, ends up in the hospital, and develops a complicated relationship with the neighbor who saves him, Mrs. Zegerman. While Arty’s life is not one that lacks tension, the story as a whole does not have a primary conflict. It appears to me that any of these aspects of Arty’s life can be made into their own story but are not effective when presented as one short story. The plot and all of the tension that go along with it keep changing drastically, especially at the end. As a result it is difficult for the reader to feel sympathy for Arty or for anyone else present in the story. What further complicates the situation is the fact that the point of view changes as well, first focused on Arty and then focused on Mrs. Zegerman. It appears to me that the character of Arty is not yet established when the character of Mrs. Zegerman is introduced. As a result, both characters appear flat and unsympathetic. She minor conflicts found within the story appear to be resolved but since the story lacks a primary tension, it is difficult to say whether tension overall is resolved. Furthermore, since I’m not sure what the story is trying to achieve, I’m not sure whether it succeeds.

Danielle Evans’ “Someone Ought to Tell Her There’s Nowhere to Go”

 

In Danielle Evans’ “Someone Ought to Tell Her There’s Nowhere to Go,” tension is introduced in the first sentence. I’d noticed that the stories that I really enjoy are those that introduce tension in this manner because they bring the reader in. Once the story begins with conflict or opens with a big scene, the reader is drawn into the story and is more likely to be patient and interested in the details about the characters and the setting.

In that respect, this story begins with a bang. Evans doesn’t waste any time and begins the story with “Georgie knew before he left that Lanae would be fucking Kenny by the time he got back to Virginia. ” The main character, Georgie, and his eluding love interest, Lanae, establish the main conflict in the story and maintain it throughout. The story has other tensions, minor conflicts involving Georgie and Lanae but all of these are secondary, used to reinforce the primary tension. Evans does a great job of staying focused and not meandering too far away from the primary conflict while at the same time introducing details into Georgie’s life that help illustrate the kind of person that he is. For example, “Now it was a weekday in the suburbs in the lack of human presence made him anxious. He turned the TV on and off four times, flipping through talk shows and soap operas and thinking this was something like what had happened to him: someone had changed the channel on his life.” This line and others like it help show that even an apparent lack of tension contributes to a tense environment in Georgie’s life.

In the end, the tension between Georgie and Lanae is resolved in that it is doubtful that she will ever speak to him again. This is not the resolution that someone might expect in the beginning of the story but given Georgie’s actions, this is the only resolution that seems plausible. The tension in the story is primarily driven by the plot with some of the contributions coming from character development. Georgie is presented like a lost soul, sad in his desperate desire for Lanae, and perhaps not even her but what she and her daughter represent. I did not notice much attention being paid to the setting other than the occasional mention of suburbia thus tension is primarily build by the plot and the characters. In her attempts to portray lonesomeness and desperation and how these two factors often result in bad decisions, Evans succeeds.

Jennifer Egan’s “Safari”

 

In Jennifer Egan’s “Safari,” the tension is hard to pin point exactly. Each of the characters seems to be struggling with one thing or the other and the struggles take place against the backdrop of a safari. This wild setting moves the characters forward by both developing themselves as characters and by moving the plot along. Mindy the anthropologist is an interesting character who brings her anthropological viewpoint into a landscape that appears to be primed for that sort of thing. However, the style of writing by defining words such as structural resentment, structural affection, structural incompatibility, etc. give an impression of a know it all, even though those are not necessarily the words she uses. I’m not sure what it was that annoyed me so much about this story, but perhaps it was the present tense and the author’s propensity to tell rather than show, particularly in situations that would benefit greatly from showing. While it’s unfair, I have to admit that at one point while reading the line, “In the ticking motor silence they can hear the lions breathe,” I wished that all of the characters would be eaten by lions and the story would end. Nevertheless, if Egan’s point of the story is that journeys are valuable regardless of whether they have a happy end then perhaps the story succeeds at what it’s trying to achieve.

Charles Baxter’s “The Cousins”

In Charles Baxter’s “The Cousins,” the conflict appears between two cousins. Both the narrator and his cousin are equally wealthy, thanks to their grandfather’s fortune, but Brantford is 20 years younger than the narrator and a squanderer. The tension between them is not what one might think, the narrator isn’t jealous or annoyed with his cousin. Instead the narrator is a lens through which the reader is able to understand Brantford. Brantford is as a sad character who is more comfortable with animals than with people and who admits that “willpower is not my strong suit.” The tension in the story intensifies when Brantford wonders out loud if he had committed the murder and the narrator admits to himself and the reader that he in fact did. Overall the story is interesting and Baxter’s technique is effective in building various tensions. Tension is apparently resolved when Bradford accidentally kills himself by stepping into the intersection but new tensions between the narrator and Brantford’s wife are introduced. Thus on one hand the plot develops and results one tension but then contributes to new ones. Overall, the story appears to be written all in reflection and as a result certain elements, like the segment about the Ethiopian cabdriver, appear out of place. I am not sure what the story is trying to achieve thus I’m not sure if it succeeds. Though it may not appear from this analysis, I actually really enjoyed the story however the meandering nature of it makes it a little difficult to analyze.

Marlin Barton’s “Into Silence”

Gothicpic

The story exhibits a sense of uneasiness right from the beginning when Barton indicates that inviting strange men to stay at the house is not something that Janey’s mother does all the time. This uneasiness or mystery is the primary tension in “Into Silence” and prevails throughout the course story in order to portray the nagging sense of the unknown that Janey feels all the time. As a result, story elements like plot, character, and setting unfold simultaneously with little preliminary information from the author. Rather than using plot and character to develop setting, Barton spends a lot of time describing visual elements, like houses in disrepair, in order to give the story something of a Gothic feel and to contribute to its restless mood. As a result, setting is used to establish a greater understanding of both plot and character with lines like, “his masculine demeanor seems to make the whole house feel different, as if the house had a slightly altered design.”

Similarly, Barton first describes characters physically, letting additional elements (like Janey being deaf) emerge later. This technique allows Barton to not only portray a feeling of foreignness but also to illustrate how Janey feels. This sense of the Gothic seems to be confirmed in the end of the story with the line, “she felt she saw ghosts within him, his mother’s and his own ghost, small and lost.”

In the end, while certain elements of the story, like who is Mr. Clark, do get resolved the resolution actually poses more questions than it provides answers. The tension is not resolved completely and the overall feel of mystery and uneasiness remains, thus allowing the story to succeed in what it is trying to achieve.

Steve Almond’s “Donkey Greedy, Donkey Gets Punched”

Office

The obvious tension in the story is between the psychologist, Dr. Raymond Oss, and his patient, Mr. Gary Sharpe. Right from the beginning, Sharpe has an antagonistic approach to his visit and the amount of money the sessions are costing him. Nevertheless, he continues to see the doctor for over year. The primary and underlying tension is the more personal tension between Sharpe and Oss. Oss is a gambler himself, perhaps a sometime addict, and Sharpe is the winner of the 2003 World Series of Poker. Their meetings resemble something for poker game, as Oss tries to find out information from Sharpe to help him deal with his issues with his father. This fact-finding mission cumulates in an actual poker match in the end of the story.

Tension is constructed by the poker game like interactions that Oss and Sharpe exhibit in their sessions. This tension builds into the climax that is resolved with Sharpe showing the overconfident Oss that it is actually he who is donkey in their relationship. The “donkey” of course meaning a “shit player,” both in poker and in life. This plot point is used to illustrate what Sharpe says in the end, “The man who can’t lose always does. Did you learn nothing from our work?” This question is used to show that while Sharpe was the one who sought Oss’ help, he (by the nature of his personality) was also there to teach Oss a few things.

In this story, setting is developed using plot and character. Almond spends very little time describing rooms and places except with a few extreme the well-placed details such as smell. For example, the casino, Artichoke Joe’s, is portrayed as a place with “confusion of colognes and nicotine.” The simple image is enough to capture the mood. Almond also takes time to slowly develop his characters, both physically and psychologically. He does not introduce them entirely right in the beginning but instead holds on to certain details until the last possible time. For example, the readers don’t learn that Oss wears hats until the middle of the story when Sharpe mocks him about hiding his baldness. Likewise, the readers also don’t learn that Sharpe found his dead father’s body hanging with shit on his pants until the very end. Since Sharpe stops attending meetings after mistakingly revealing this information to Oss, his treatment of Oss at the poker table appears to be an act of vengeance. Thus, the characters seem to create the plot and the setting, allowing the story to masterfully succeed at what it’s trying to achieve.