English 245: Modern Fiction

a collaborative exploration of pervasive tropes, themes, and concepts in contemporary fiction


May 2016


Nell I don’t know if your still reading this but I hope you are. I’ve been trying to email my final for days now and it keeps either being sent back or I don’t hear from you. I am panicking you haven’t gotten my final and now it’s late and I don’t know hat to do…  Please tell me you got at least one of my emails, and I sent another today (Saturday). I don’t know what else to do… I haven’t been able to make time to get to BBC…. I don’t wanna let this wreck my grade jut cause my PC is being difficult… -Ashley Martsen (I’m so sorry my final is technically late)


The Strand Strand_01

The Through line

When I take a class, I am arrogant enough, especially when I’ve taken a one with an instructor I’ve had before, to think I know what to expect. I always hope that my expectations are blasted to bits. I came to school to be challenged, turned on to new things–new ways of looking at the same old things. Seeing things in ways I’ve never thought of, or wanted to think of. I needed to be exposed to artists I’ve never heard of, writers I’ve never read, thoughts I’ve never had. Worlds I’ve never imagined.

Writing this I should go back to the tiny works we read at the very beginning, but they didn’t make an impression– at least one I am recalling now. What I am remembering now is the brief history of fiction, probably from the very first class. There were very delineated movements, or Ages, of fiction going back as far as the written word. I remembering sitting in class, with fellow students that I had shared this instructor with, some I had not, and thinking that this was an austere beginning to a class about Modern Fiction. By the end of that first hour and fifteen minutes I knew that this class was going to show me how what has been written before influences what is being written now. However, we didn’t read anything old. It was understood that a certain amount of familiarity with what had been set down before rears it’s ugly head now.

I have a problem with Postmodernism. I don’t get it, don’t understand it. On an intellectual, visceral level I kind of have a left-handed view of what it’s supposed to look like. Pulp Fiction has been held up as an example of Postmodernism– with it’s fragmented, out of linear time-line storytelling style of telling a tale. Is that all it is? My classmates tell me no, no that is not all it is, but cannot give me the definition that satisfies me. It’s this, it’s that, it’s how you perceive it. Nobody can give me a “nuts and bolts follow the directions” answer to how Postmodernism works in contemporary fiction. I need to know how to construct something with the materials I’ve been given, with some kind of direction to get the job done. All this semester I have struggled with this Postmodernism conundrum.

Here, at the end of this semester, I think the key for me may have been Sanders’ Tenth of December. On it’s face, the yarns spun by Sanders are really very simple tales where, for the most part, nothing extraordinary happens– if you know human nature. But is it in how he tells his stories that, maybe, made me understand– even a little bit– how Postmodernism works?

The idea of the different voices in Victory Lap that eventually converge to a denouement, with their different viewpoints, has multiple endings that really has no ending. These things that have happened to Allison, Kyle and The Potential Rapist/Serial Killer(I can’t find his name in the text) will go on, and on, and on. The story doesn’t end with the writer’s prose, but goes on in the reader’s imagination.

The Semplica Diaries, is, from what I get, is the ultimate Postmodern tale we studied. The Diarist is totally removed from what should be, from my perspective, important. Totally indulging in his children’s wants and needs, at the expense of his family’s greater good. The narrator needs to learn to say “No”. His youngest daughter makes his Weenie-ism all the more acute when she sets free the very thing that will cripple her family. The little shit. Doesn’t she realize her parents are on the hook for that? Nope— neither does she care or want to. In her mind it was the right thing to do. The writer ponders all of these things

…and Sanders write this in a curt, short-hand like a diary would have been written like a Man. Full of angst and worry and guilt. Because it’s a diary, or written as so, we assume it’s the truth– or a version of the truth– the writer’s version of the truth. But… it is the truth! as far as the writer believes it.

Chang Rae Lee wrote a book. According to Mark’s questions, he let the narrative meander and grow. He had certain themes he wanted to explore, and not necessarily  ones about heroics, but ones about how in times of perceived trouble the masses will latch on to symbols. When things got tough in B-Mor, a so-called Savoiur was needed to give the lower classes hope. A successful part of their society leaving, apparently for no reason, is the perfect template to impose whatever Hope they need.

Lee circumvents this in the book by fragmenting the telling. It jumps from the adventure that Fan is having to the real everyday bullshit that happens. When things get tough, really tough, people look for simple answers– leaders– symbols of rebellion. Even though no one is privvy to what happened to Fan on her journey, for some reason the masses took it to heart, and did nothing with it when things got better. They told the story, got what they wanted from it, and went to work the next day. Fan rode off into the sunset.

Then there is Amy. Again, told in fractured time by Flynn, the story is told by the character’s point of view. As the mystery unfolds it dovetails into the center of the book, where the victim all of a sudden becomes the villain. This turns a run-of-the-mill Dateline Murder Mystery on it’s head. And Flynn does it by changing the voice of the so-called victim. A brilliant sociopath– but not a perfect one– she makes mistakes We all know what they are,

One mistake, I think, Flynn makes at the finale of the novel, is she abandons the conceit of the diary– at least on Amy’s part–Nick’s story is told mostly from inside his head– the last entry is from Amy, but it’s more like one of her lists. Lists Lists Lists. This is how Flynn defines her killer.

So, the point I am trying to make here, and I could be wrong, and this is the Through Line that is my title– is that nothing is what it seems. Perception is everything. The Kid with his over-heated imagination who gets saved by a dying old man, the pretty rich girl who turns out to be a wicked sociopath, a dad who wants to just please his kid. Heroes that come from weakness.

Is Postmodernism in literature just playing off expected norms? Is the fractured (sorry for using this word so much) nature of how these tales are told natant Postmodernism?

I am not a fan continuity. Perception, in reading, in Art, in Film and in choices, is suspect.

Nothing is what it seems.

What if?

I can’t help but wonder. I think about stuff like the following all the time…

What kind of life would Nick and Amy have had if the recession had never hit, they didn’t lose their highly lucrative New York jobs, Amazing Amy’s marriage book was wildly successful and Nicks mom had lived till she was 100?

Although we know that Amy is a crazy bat-shit sociopath, and Nick is just a relatively passive dull guy, what would life had looked like for these two? At what point would Amy’s true nature come to the fore. Even in the post cool-girl entries in Amy’s diary she alludes to enjoying the life that she and Nick were living in New York. What would have sparked the madness that was just below the surface of Amy’s facade? Would she have picked another fly, other than Nick, to snare in her web and torture and ruin– this time with Nick at her side– clueless to what her real motivations were?

I love what if’s. It is a good game to stretch the imagination with. So many random factors, spun by the writer in a narrative, could go anywhere.

The Tryout

It was a day they they have been preparing for as long as they could remember. In the town of Backwater, football was life. For the upcoming Freshman at Midland High football tryouts marked the end; the end of being a child, the end of being coddled, the end of being told not yet, and the boys were ready, most of them anyway.

As Tom rode his bike towards town, he could not stop thinking about how fast the summer had gone by. He had spent the past eight weeks on his grandfather’s farm, a few hours North, and he was not ready to come back to town. Tom had enjoyed football growing up, he moved to town in the fifth grade, and being a good athlete made the move easier than he had anticipated, as his family was the only in town not originally from Backwater. Raised by his mother, who worked three jobs to support the family, and her long time boyfriend Joe, Tom had always been independent and mature for his age.

Gordon looked out the window eagerly, he was ready to get to tryouts, ready to get it over with at long last. “Boy I’ve been trying to get you ready for this day since you could walk, don’t fuck this up” Dale told his son. Gordon nodded agreeably, he couldn’t help but notice the pile of Bud cans were especially high today, he couldn’t wait to get out of the house, even if it was for football. Gordon’s slight frame and nearsightedness were something he had always been teased for, and certainly did him no favors on the football field, but not playing was never an option, not with Dale as his father, not in Backwater.

“Gotta go Dad, Tom’s here” Gordon attempted to slip out without the inevitable alcohol induced story he’d heard since he could remember. “Don’t fuck this up son. When I was you’re age Coach and the boys made me the man I am today, enjoy every second of it. And don’t you dare be the weak link out there, no son of mine will be the weak link.” Gordon was pretty sure his father was still talking when he shut the door, but it didn’t matter, nothing he hadn’t heard before.

Tom and Gordon had arrived to the high school a full half hour before the tryout began, yet the parking lot was already filling up with pickup trucks from the men in town. Some were fathers of boys on the team, others just came to take in the ritual that was Midland High School’s football tryouts. Boys becoming men, no grater rite of passage out there, at least not in the eyes of the people of  Backwater.

As Tom, Gordon, and the rest of the boys hit the field for the first time, two things stood out, the heat and the number of people in the crowd. Not yet ten in the mourning, and the temperature was nearing triple digits, but that didn’t stop what seemed like every man in Backwater from attending. “These boys think it’s hot, in our day it was twice this hot, and we didn’t get water breaks. Kids today have gotten soft” belted Dale, the men around him nodded agreeably.

The boys had been prepared for this day, yet they knew nothing of what was to come. For as much of an emphasis the town places on the tryout, it is shrouded in mystery, no one could attend the tryout unless they had completed it themselves.

The team was lead in stretching by Simon, who at six foot two, and two hundred pounds was the biggest guy on the team. Simon was the team’s captain since the first grade, he was Gordon’s second cousin, but the two did not get along.

As stretching drew to a close a strong man in a sweatshirt and dirty white Midland Football hat. “I’m coach Heins, if you don’t hate me yet, I promise you will soon. Work you’re asses of and prey that that’s enough. Trust me boys, you don’t want to be the weak link, not in this town, not on this team.” Tom could see the fear on Gordon’s face growing. “We got this man, don’t worry about it.” he assured his friend.

The field sat at the bottom of the large hill nearly covered with spectators, with packed bleachers on one side of the field. “We’re going to get started with some Indian Sprints today boys, hope y’all are ready.” Coach Heins barked. “Back in my day we called ‘em savage sprints, this town’s getting soft” said Dale. The men around him nodded agreeably.

The boys formed a single file line lead by Simon, they jogged around the field with the man in the back having to sprint to the front of the line, and then the next man went. When it was Tom’s turn he dug deep and quickly made it to the front of the line, but as he looked back he could see the heat was getting to Gordon. Tom sprinted to the back of the line and ran forward with his friend, “we got this man” he assured him.

Next up was the Oklahoma drills. The drill involved two men lined up facing each other, when the whistle blows the two run into each other full speed, whoever takes down the other is the victor. Tom went first and effortlessly flattened the guy he went against. Next was Gordon, he had to face Simon, when the whistle blew Gordon was immediately knocked to the ground. “You two, go again” Coach Heins barked. Four times in a row Simon speared Gordon the the ground. When coach Heins ordered them to go again, Tom chimed in: “Coach let me get another go” Coach Heins shrugged and motioned for him to take over for Gordon. When the whistle blew Simon and Tom collided like fright trains, with Tom coming out on top. “Fuck you foreigner, and your four eyed friend”. The men in the crowd liked what they saw, “finally some fire out of these boys, bout damn time.” Dale said, as the men around him nodded agreeably.

As the Sun reached its highest point, many of the men from the bleachers walked to the hill on the other side of the field, forming a single path up the hill, a few feet wide. “Alright boys, now its on to the fun part, hill sprints” barked Coach Heins Gordon’s face dropped as he looked up the steep hill. Tom comforted his friend, “it all right man we got this.” The hill was over a quarter mile long, with a steep incline. “Alright boys, lets see if we can find our weak link” coach said, in a more light hearted town than he had used to this point.

First up was Simon, he struggled initially but glided to the top once he found his stride. One by one all the boys were making it to the top, where they rejoiced together, officially members of the team, officially men. The last two to go were Tom and Gordon, Tom asked who he wanted to go last, “I’ll go last man, if I see you make it then I think I can too” Gordon replied. Tom made it up the hill faster than anyone else, through the crowd, onto manhood. “You got this man!” he assured his friend from a top the hill.

Gordon had just began running up that hill, and he was already loosing steam. He had to make it, he told himself, he couldn’t be the weak link, not today, not in this town. Yet, he began to stumble and fell. Tom watched from the top in disbelief, he knew he needed to help his friend. “Fuck that loser, you’re on the team now.” Simon told him. It didn’t matter, not of this mattered, not to Tom. He ran down the hill lifted Gordon up, and helped him up the hill. As the got to the top, the two friends hugged, they had made it, together.

All of a sudden Tom awoke with a piercing head ache, taped to the goal post of the field. “He who helps the weak link, is the weak link”. A line formed behind Simon, one by when every man on the team speared Tom as he remain tied to the goal post. “He who helps the weak link, is the weak link” the all said before driving their helmets into Tom’s chest. Finally it was Gordon’s turn, with a fire burning in his eyes, and a look of pride that troubled Tom, “he who helps the weak link, is the week link” shouted Gordon before delivering a bone crushing hit on his only friend. As the team walked of the field, Tom motionless on the goal post, Dale put his arm around his son. “Proud of you boy” Gordan nodded agreeably.

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