The Fun House by Sherman Alexie, 1993
The magic trick:
Bouncing back and forth between past and present tense to pack a consistent, effective emotional punch
This is a trick Alexie uses throughout his The Lone Ranger And Tonto Fist Fight In Heaven collection – bouncing back and forth between past and present. Several of his stories are nothing more than a patchwork of stitched-together vignettes. I don’t know why I say “nothing more than…” That makes it sound like a bad thing. It’s not. It’s a really cool way to tell a story, actually.
In “The Fun House,” we get five sections. They alternate present-past-present-past-present. The past-tense sections function as backstory, informing and clarifying the events and feelings in the present-tense sections. It may sound like a herky-jerky, back-and-forth whiplash experience for the reader, but “The Fun House” flows smoothly, with each section building logically to the emotional conclusion. And that’s quite a trick on Alexie’s part.
In the dark my aunt and her husband were dancing. Thirty years ago and they two-stepped in an Indian cowboy bar. So many Indians in one place and it was beautiful then. All they needed to survive was the drive home after closing time.
“Hey, Nezzy,” a voice cried out to my aunt. “You still stepping on toes?”
My aunt smiled and laughed. She was a beautiful dancer, had given lessons at the Arthur Murray Dance Studio to pay her way through community college. She had also danced topless in a Seattle bar to put food in her child’s stomach.
There are all kinds of dancing.
“Do you love me?” my aunt asked her husband.
He smiled. He held her closer, tighter. They kept dancing.