Even Greenland by Barry Hannah, 1985
The magic trick:
Setting up the story with an action-packed setting only to push the reader’s attention away toward other ideas
You would think that a story set in the cockpit of a burning, crashing jet airplane would, I don’t know, focus on the burning, crashing jet airplane. But then you wouldn’t be thinking of Barry Hannah if you would think that what you would think is what you would get.
That sentence made sense, I promise. Read it again. It really does. I think.
Anyway, the story starts with this dramatic setting but keeps pushing the reader’s attention elsewhere. The story instead wants us to think about the notion of artistic license. Who owns whose story? Who can claim what as their own narrative? Then the story instead wants us to consider loss of innocence, the way war expands your horizons and yet constricts your faith.
The crashing airplane isn’t there for plot. It’s there as a filter through which the reader thinks about these heavy topics. And that’s quite a trick on Hannah’s part.
“You have a good time in Peru?” said I.
“Not really,” said John. “I got something to tell you. I haven’t had a ‘good time’ in a long time. There’s something between me and a good time since, I don’t know, since I was was twenty-eight or like that. I’ve seen a lot, but you know I haven’t quite seen it. Like somebody’s seen it already. It wasn’t fresh. There were eyes that used it up some.”
“Even high in Mérida?” said I.
“Even,” said John.
“Even Greenland?” said I.
John said, “Yes. Even Greenland. It’s fresh, but it’s not fresh. There are footsteps in the snow.”
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