Sonoran Dreams: Three Short Stories from Exile, by Robb Grindstaff (2:33)

IOD score cardToday we see that lists of things are supposed to be easy to read.

What I gleaned about the stories: The best way to deal with a life-threatening situation is to get drunk.

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Note: This is a short story collection, so the rules are slightly different from standard Immerse or Die: instead of reading on every time I lose immersion, I stop reading that story and move on to the next one. As usual, I stop reading after the third WTF.

WTF #1: Confused list

Analysis: A few sentences into the first story, I hit: The drops fall on sand and dirt and dried scrub brush, release the odors of life from blossoms and fruit, from the dry, cracked earth and the brittle, brown branches of mesquite and juniper, of saltbush and creosote. I (correctly) parsed the first two commas as dividing a list of actions that the drops performed; so, I stumbled over the next comma, which separated adjectives rather than items. Mental image tottering, I made it as far as the semi-colon before completely losing track of which verbs applied to which nouns.

After going back and reading it again, I slotted the pieces together. However, having to go back and assemble a sentence in the first paragraph is a clear WTF, so I moved on.

WTF #2: Absence of Parallel Structure

Analysis: A few paragraphs into the second story, the narrator-protagonist indicated that he’d (metaphorically) lost his shirt twice. The next sentence of the paragraph began with First… which created the expectation that the paragraph would be a quick explanation of both times. However, the author began a new paragraph without mentioning the second time; a paragraph that began with The second time.

While this was—logically—a clear enough label, rhetorically a list that begins with First continues with Second, Third, and so forth. Potentially, this deviation from what I expected for no apparent cause would have been enough to damage my immersion. Highlighted by the unexpected paragraph break, it flipped me straight into editing mode.

After pushing aside a brief consideration of whether the first or second structure was better for this narrator’s voice, I moved on.

WTF #3: Inconsistent Point of View

Analysis: The third story opens with an overview of a group of friends, then moves on to a brief description of the behaviour and character of two of their members. The second description segues into highlights of the night the second character disappeared. When the group realizes he is actually missing, the narrator explains they sent one of their number off on her own. However the next paragraph opens with “I don’t know the name of the road,” she cried. After almost a page of quite objective narration in a distant third person, this sudden focus on the fine details of a single instant (what she said, how she said it) clashed with the narrative voice I’d built in my head.

This disjunction was amplified by the knowledge the character had been sent off on her own. If the narrator wasn’t there, how could he know these details? Obviously, she could have shared her actions later; but the usual pattern for single narrator point of view is more detail on the events they experienced and less on those they only know second hand, so the reversal of having the only fine detail be something the narrator hadn’t experienced shattered my understanding of what sort of narrator I had.

As attempts by an unreliable narrator to mislead the reader are often accompanied by a reduction in detail or focus on irrelevant details, this sudden focus on something that didn’t change my image of the scene also destroyed my faith that I could assess the narrator’s veracity. I therefore pulled the plug.

Take the Pepsi Challenge: Want to know if my own writing measures up? Download one of these free short stories, in the format of your choice, and decide for yourself.

Short, Sharp Shocks: A Collection of Hit 'n’ Run Fiction, by Simon Wood (2:03)
The Dark of Light, by Audrey Sharpe (7:47)

About the author

Dave Higgins has worked in law and IT for both public and private sector organisations. When not pursuing these hobbies, he writes poetry and speculative fiction. He was born in Wiltshire, England. Raised by a librarian, he started reading shortly after birth and has not stopped since. He currently lives in Bristol with his wife, Nicola, his cats, Jasper and Una, and many shelves of books.