Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Point of view does matter

Quite often in our fiction group we tell each other when there is a glitch in the point of view, some shift of attention that pulls us out of what John Gardner calls the fictive dream. This might be an intrusion by the author's voice, filling in a bit of exposition, or musing philosophically about content (rare in our group), or--more often--summarizing the action, not something the pov character would likely do. All of this attention to point of view has made me a more attentive reader, as in reading like a writer. I question the fiction that I read, asking the absent author why he or she did it this way, what's the advantage, what's the risk. Two of my most curious questions center on Amy Tan's Saving Fish from Drowning and now Tom Robbins' Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas. Hmm, maybe I only question books with cold-blooded creatures in the title.

Tan uses the voice of a dead woman to tell her story. The risk here is believability. We've all been warned about the improbability of a dead man talking. However, once the fictive dream is established, the story goes on apace. The voice of the dead woman is lively! She's a character as well as a narrator. So, kudos, Amy Tan, for risking the immediate loss of the purist, the cynic, the cranky critics. Who wants them to read our work anyway? More recently I picked up Robbins' book and dove right in. He uses another unusual tactic, second person, hard to sustain over 382 pages. The book is laugh-out-loud funny, certainly. But, I feel distanced from his main character, a woman with one friend (with whom she prefers not to be seen in public) and a dorky lover whom she alternately manipulates and reviles. Maybe it's not the pov that makes her unsympathetic, but I wonder if the author were not forced to constantly talk to her from across the room, would he have found more warmth and vulnerability in Gwen, the shady stock broker, stewing in a juice of her own making? Maybe things will change. In all fairness, I'm only half way through and I'll stick with it in the hope that she will redeem herself. KD

1 comment:

Lynn said...

I LOVED the dead lady narator!