Prizes by Janet Frame, 1962
The magic trick:
Inverting an expected point of reference of the adolescent memoir story
Oh Lord, another story about someone spinning their childhood memories into a tale of emotional woe from the comfortable and comfortably smug point of view of successful adulthood.
Here we go again.
I actually very much like this premise for a story often as it does come up on the SSMT blog. “Prizes” has a particularly intriguing twist on the formula. Ostensibly, the narrator’s tone is one of a lesson learned. I used to think this is how the world worked, she tells the reader, but wasn’t I foolish?
Thing is, her bitterness reveals a nature that is not resolved. In fact, this is not at all the story of someone looking back with wisdom. She may want to think she has it all figured out now, but she does not. She is still adhering to the same belief system as an adult that she recognizes as problematic for her childhood. Perhaps she isn’t happy. Or comfortable. Or successful. But part of the problem is that she is still applying this ridiculous prize-based measure to assess her own life.
This narrator still has a ways to go. And that’s quite a trick on Frame’s part.
I was walking desolately in the rain along the main street, wearing my dirty old gabardine and my dowdy clothes and feeling fifteen instead of twenty-five, when, just beyond the bed of poppies in the center of the street, I saw two beautiful women wheeling prams and their proud gait was so noticeable I tried to recall when and where I’d seen before that superior parading of the victorious. And then I realized that I had walked onto the platform in the same way year after year to receive my prizes.