Read This And Tell Me What It Says by A. Manette Ansay, 1992
The magic trick:
A first-person narrator with well-defined character traits beyond simply being the person conveying the story
We’re off to Wisconsin this week.
A. Manette Ansay’s Read This And Tell Me What It Says is an outstanding story collection from the ‘90s that puts us in small-town Wisconsin of (I’d guess) the ‘70s. Check it out today if you’re not already familiar. Highly recommended.
The title story gives us a first-person narrator looking back on her teenage years. It’s a storytelling point of view we know very well. In so many stories of this kind, the narrator’s growth is focused so much on observing the people around them or learning from the events that happen to them that they risk becoming invisible as characters themselves. This isn’t necessarily a flaw. I love many such stories.
However, it’s notable that the narrator in this story is not such character. She has well-defined character traits and does a good job of talking about herself in a way. That’s not to say she’s not observant or influenced by the things and people around her in the story. She’s just bringing maybe more to the story as a complicated character than mere cipher.
And that’s quite a trick on Ansay’s part.
“Sweetheart,” he said to me one day. “Read this and tell me what it says.”
It was a newspaper article about a man who had an allergy to everything: food, air, people, animals. The man had to live in a special house and wear silk clothes and eat irradiated food. If he didn’t, his nerves drove him crazy, he hallucinated, he went without sleep for days. I paced after my father, explaining it to him.
“Maybe that’s what’s wrong with me,” he said.
“Me too,” I said eagerly, but his mind had already wandered to other things and he didn’t hear. I found a new boyfriend, a short, muscular junior who liked to be called Fonzie, and we spent hours exchanging vicious kisses in the woods behind the parking lot. Fonzie knew what he was doing, but I couldn’t keep my mind on it for long. I forgot to finish meals. I asked to use the bathroom during class, and then I sat in the stalls, giggling. I thought, I am cracking up.
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