Saturday, February 11, 2012
53. Mystery, ambiguity & } a brilliant execution.
At Scattershot Writing, James Everington posts weekly about strange stories, “horror fiction that [isn’t] quite horror….” He argues that it is by ambiguity that the strange story is differentiated from horror stories, and he notes several ways strange stories use ambiguity in their narratives.
Let's consider the ambiguity of the strange story outside of narrative: the strange story lives at/on the border of genre, meaning that part of what puts the strange story at odds with horror stories is its ambiguous stance toward what kind of fiction it is. The author doesn’t need for his or her story to be horror or fantasy or anything else: all he or she is concerned with is the story and what it reveals (and doesn’t). (Mr. Everington’s inclusion of a Tom Waits song and of Joyce Carol Oates’ “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” as strange stories illustrates my point.)
Mr. Everington’s posts were brought to my attention because the first story he wrote about is “What Water Reveals” from Worse Than Myself. He is thoughtful about the story and likes it—for what more could I ask? Specifically regarding ambiguity, he writes, “Golaski presents a realistic (and poignant) story of someone recovering from alcoholism here, and what makes the story work… is the ambiguity of how that alcoholism relates to the supernatural element.”
Instead of ambiguity, I suggest mystery. Mystery is profound, holy, and problematic, whereas ambiguity is only uncertainty. The connection is mysterious, which is larger than ambiguity. Is this hair-splitting? My characters may be unreliable, but there is nothing ambiguous about the world they describe. It is as they say it is.
I’m grateful to Mr. Everington for his posts on the strange story because they invite serious discussion about ideas hard to pin down. Also: apparently Worse Than Myself was a birthday gift? We at Nostalgia Studio find this most incredible. The twelve-year old with a typewriter on his bed and the Hardware soundtrack in his tape deck is elated.