Monday, May 14, 2012

Telling Two Stories

Eudora Welty said, “There is no story until there are two stories.”  Sometimes the second story becomes obvious as the narrative develops.  In The Hunger Games or Harry Potter, the story of an individual is set within a much larger political landscape.  Sometimes the other story is only suggested.  A title like “September 10, 2001” can evoke without mentioning the attack on the World Trade Center.  Greg Brown’s song “Brand New '64 Dodge” tells a seemingly simple story of a boy’s parents buying a new car.  The audience knows, however, the world is about to change with the assassination of JFK.

Money comes out of Dad's billfold.
Hankies come out of Mom's purse.
The engine hardly makes a sound
even when you put it in reverse.
It's got a push-button transmission,hardtop convertible, 4-door.
It's November of '63
and the brand new Dodge is a '64.
And we're rolling slow down Main Street -
the asphalt and gravel crunch.
Church is finally over
and we're going to have our Sunday lunch.
And then I will play football
with my buddies down in park.
Later I'll dream about my girlfriend
as I lie alone in the dark.

She's got short red hair and blue eyes
and her swimsuit's also blue
and her little brother is retarded,
but Jesus loves him, too.
And Jesus loves our president,
even though he is a Catholic.
There's a lot for a boy to think about
as he walks along the railroad tracks.

Sometimes the second story is suggested in even more subtle ways.  In the poem “Working in the Rain” by Robert Morgan, the narrator talks about his father, and, halfway through the poem (line 14 out of 27), he says, “I thought he sought the privacy of rain.”  The past tense, tucked into the middle of the poem, adds a complication, an uncertainty.  It would be a different line if it read “He sought the privacy…” or “I think he sought…”  But the past tense suggests the narrator has changed his view and come to a different understanding of his father. Thus, the poem chronicles both a past and present state of mind.  The two stories can exist in a single character as we change and age.

Greg Brown's web site

Robert Morgan's "Working in the Rain"

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