Where The Mountains Are by Bill Barich, 1982
The magic trick:
Repeating a character’s backstory, from a different point of view each time
Anderson is having a big weekend. He’s welcoming his mother and mother-in-law to his family’s Idaho Falls home for his only son’s high school graduation.
Sounds ripe for a consideration of midlife, identity, and family relationships, right? And indeed it is. I liked this story a lot.
I’ll especially highlight a technique we get during the story’s first half. The third-person narration gives us context about the nature of this visit for Anderson and his mother. It tells us a quick summary of Anderson’s adulthood and key life choices. It seems to be mostly unbiased, third-person exposition. But then we get a very similar summary of his life choices, this time from the mother’s perspective. It might seem a little repetitive, particularly as this exposition is keeping us from the story’s central action, but I think it works really well.
Their relationship is the story’s main theme, and it’s a nice technique for giving the reader both sides of the backstory.
And that’s quite a trick on Barich’s part.
She expected him to begin an intelligible career when he settled in San Francisco with his new wife, but he acted more scattered than he had in Europe. He had no sense of responsibility. He dressed like a hippie and mailed her pamphlets criticizing the government. There was a nasty scene in Houston, when he came to his father’s funeral in bluejeans, with hair down to his shoulders and a wispy little psychopath’s mustache on his upper lip. “Don’t you have any respect for the dead?” she shouted at him, refusing to believe that he hadn’t meant to insult or offend her, that he had boarded the plane in a condition of obliterative rage, wishing he could raise up the old man and forgive him for everything.
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