Down To A Sunless Sea by Neil Gaiman, 2013
The magic trick:
Writing in the second-person present tense
This one reads almost like an old Choose Your Own Adventure. One key difference: you don’t get to choose. Gaiman has an adventure cued up for you already and you can’t turn the page for a new outcome. It’s cool, though, that the story addresses the reader in second person. It further encourages you to step into the old woman’s point of view. The use of present tense also is important, as it highlights the sad results wrought on her life by the events of the past. A neat little (online) page turner. And that’s quite a trick on Gaiman’s part.
You take refuge from the deluge beneath a canvas awning put up by a sailmaker. You believe yourself to be alone under there, at first, for she is statue-still and staring out across the water, even though there is nothing to be seen through the curtain of rain. The far side of the Thames has vanished.
And then she sees you. She sees you and she begins to talk, not to you, oh no, but to the grey water that falls from the grey sky into the grey river. She says, “My son wanted to be a sailor,” and you do not know what to reply, or how to reply. You would have to shout to make yourself heard over the roar of the rain, but she talks, and you listen. You discover yourself craning and straining to catch her words.
“My son wanted to be a sailor.”