Friday, June 22, 2012

never trust the narrator: notes for an essay

This is a bit from Elsewhere that some readers misunderstand:
"There's a bookstore? In Bordertown?"
She nodded. "Several. There's everything you want in Bordertown. There just isn't everything you need." She grinned. "I'm Mickey. The store's Elsewhere. Hours are as erratic as you can imagine, but word gets out when we're open. A few blocks south of Ho on Mock Avenue."
"I'm Ron. Ron Starbuck."
She lifted an eyebrow. "One kid showed up in Soho, said her name was Jinian L'Étoile. Everyone called her Jiggle Le Toilet. She cut out for the World after a week. I'm amazed she lasted that long."
"Check," I said. "Just Ron."
"Good to meet you, Just Ron."
If you check my reviews, you'll notice that some refer to that character as Ron Starbuck, because they trust the narrator. He goes by several names in the book. His real last name isn't mentioned until the sequel: It's Vasquez.

I didn't expect anyone to believe Starbuck was his last name. I chose it because it sounded like the kind of name a kid would make up for himself, and I thought readers would figure out from "said her name was" rather than "whose name was" that it was common to create new identities in Bordertown.

But I forgot that readers tend to trust narrators. Often, they're right to, but I find completely trustworthy narrators both boring and implausible: none of us are fully self-aware. Some narrators lie to hide something when they tell a story. Others think they know the truth and are wrong.

I've never done much with unreliable narrators, but when I read, I try to remember that anything a narrator says should be weighed against what we learn later.

Hmm. I'm being unreliable here, I just realized. The narrator of Dogland is unreliable, and readers who miss that miss the presence of magic in the book.

6 comments:

  1. I'm a little surprised that they fell for that, given that the name is not even in narrative or interior dialogue, but in something Ron is saying to somebody he wants to impress -- well, given that at this point in his journey, he wants to impress everybody, I assume that.

    It's difficult. Gentian spends large portions of Juniper, Gentian, and Rosemary being a jerk, but a lot of readers assume it's me. Much of her jerkiness is in dialogue, but some is in narrative, and that's harder to mark as just wrong if people aren't used to reading that way.

    P.

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    1. Hmm. If I write a follow-up called "Never trust the author", you'll know why. I am thinking about writing more about this when I track down the Jane Austen line about the weather being too bad for anyone to travel in, so they sent a footman. Do you remember it well enough to find with googling? My fu is weak so far.

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  2. It's in Emma, but I can't recall the exact phrasing. I am skimming the book looking for it, but I keep reading instead, so we'll see.

    P.

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    1. Reading it instead makes me smile. I prob'ly should read it myself. (I may have read it decades ago, but since I only remember liking the movie, whether I read it is moot.)

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  3. Hey, poppin' into this comment section to ask about Wolfboy. Were you gonna do a one-off-short? thought I read something about that a while ago on the blog. Lost track. As always, props to ye for reminding us readers to pay attention.

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    1. You may be thinking of the short in Welcome to Bordertown. I'm pretty happy with it, and the anthology's got some great stories, so track it down!

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