Thursday, June 18, 2009

Confessions in Narrative

SmokeLong Quarterly—Issue Twenty-Four—"I Use Commas like Ninja Stars" by Samuel Lee

So, this is one of the most popular stories at SmokeLong. Most clicked anyways. So, I decided to take a gander and write a review.

Lee tells the tale of being a 1st generation immigrant. The child of adult immigrants, the narrator grows up with English being taught to him in school and through language he becomes American. Acculturated. Assimilated. He rejects his parents' old world ways until the end when he is reunited with his mother over the grave of his father.

This flash seemed a bit uneven. I found it effective, but not entirely convincing. Lee seems drawn to turn this into a narrative, to give us some "arc." So, the son leaves and rejects the old ways. But he comes back and says, "look ma we talk same." Huh? Same? Isn't this the character who's all about change? Can't he remain changed, "talk different" and still love his mother?

I did enjoy the flash up until the point where it decided to go narrative. At that point, when the narrator goes to college, we lose the focus of the boy learning English and conflicting with his parents and soon we're treated to the tortured phrasing, "pawn their configurations for money." You mean be a writer? Write for money?

At that point, in the second-to-last graph, I find the author stretching. He's got something going, a real flash. Then he decides he needs the arc and there he starts
writing the story. The narrator gets righteous about his grammatical prowess and the author loses what's special about this piece.

So, while I did appreciate the confessional nature of the story, the emotional tug of watching a boy grow up through the language of his adopted homeland and the conflicts that brought at home. But, the flash needed to stay there, stay with that conflict and that interesting, complicated focus. That Flash.

Please take a look and comment back if you felt otherwise (or if you agreed) about this flash.

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