‘Different People’ by Clare Sestanovich

Different People by Clare Sestanovich, 2023

The magic trick:

Putting the story off-kilter from the start by suggesting that our protagonist lies in her diary

Something close to brilliant here today with this new story from Clare Sestanovich.

It does something I haven’t seen in any other story.

She creates an unreliable narrator of sorts from the outset by establishing her pre-teen protagonist as a liar. Well, to be clear, she lies in her diary. Seemingly bored by her true day-to-day life, particularly her parents, she writes fictional scenes in this journal, inventing fighting parents.

The narration is not first person. It’s not the girl telling us the story. However, because the third-person narration frequently adopts her point of view, it’s easy for the reader to get confused when later in the story, the girl’s parents tell her they are getting divorced.

Is this a real adjustment in the real part of the story?

Or is this the story morphing into one of the girl’s fictionalized diary entries?

I don’t think it really matters if you get to the bottom of it. This is not a Tyler Durden situation in Fight Club, after all.

It’s enough that the reader is mildly disoriented. It’s enough that the themes around our own family members being different people depending on how much we learn come vividly to life through multiple layers.

It’s one of the strongest stories I’ve read from this decade.

And that’s quite a trick on Sestanovich’s part.

The selection:

In writing, she referred to her parents as Peter and Lisa. On the first page of her diary, she reported that late at night, when she was supposed to be asleep, she could hear them fighting downstairs. In the next entry, she wrote that the fighting, which had begun as whispering, had escalated: now they were yelling.

None of it was true. All Gilly could hear from upstairs was the sound of the piano, which Peter played every night. Popular, easy songs—stuff he remembered from his childhood or had picked up listening to the radio. Nothing classic or classical. He wasn’t very good—he was a doctor, not a pianist—but he said that music was a universal language; you didn’t have to get it just right.


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