‘Some Terpsichore’ by Elizabeth McCracken

McCracken, Elizabeth 2005

Some Terpsichore by Elizabeth McCracken, 2005

The magic trick:

Using a narrator who is not quite believable but not totally unbelievable either

This is my first experience with Elizabeth McCracken, but I think I’m sold. I love her ability to develop a subtle form of magical realism. There aren’t any science fiction contraptions; no supernatural invasions. There are plenty of references to saws. Saws, maybe real, maybe imagined. Saws standing in as unexplained metaphors. It’s odd.

Even odder is the sense of comedy surrounding our narrator’s brief singing career. Was she talented? Was she intentionally bad? Was she ever even a singer at all? It’s hard to know exactly what is real here. But as I said before, the technique is subtle. This isn’t some surrealist nightmare. It’s not a Donald Barthelme story where reality is distorted to crazy proportions. The story at the core – the abusive relationship and the narrator’s tortured way of receiving love – is all too real. The bizarre touches of unreality around that core seem to bring to life the feelings of the relationship for the reader. We feel the same sense of confusion and lack of control. And that’s quite a trick on McCracken’s part.

The selection:

“You sound like a saw,” he said. His voice was soft. I thought he might be from the south, like me, though later I found out he just had one of those voices that picked up accents through static electricity. Really he was from Paterson, New Jersey.

“A saw?” I asked.

He nodded.

I put my hand to my throat. “I don’t know what that means.”

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