Thursday, August 20, 2009

Everyone reads a different story

One of the best online resources for literary news and info, if not the best, is I often look at their blog, check their calls for submissions, and so on. They also run reviews of literary magazines. For the first time ever I, or rather something I wrote, made it into one of their reviews. The latest set of reviews, posted yesterday, includes the most recent issue of Nimrod. And the Nimrod review features one whole entire big meaty paragraph about my story "All the Ashleys in the World." How cool is that?

In addition to the thrill of it, it's interesting to see someone else's take on something I wrote. As I've discovered before in conversation with people after they've read a story of mine, what the writer writes is by no means what the reader reads. Did that make any sense? I mean everyone reads a different story. Everyone goes at it from a different angle--necessarily, the angle being the life perspective that is uniquely theirs--and, apparently as an inevitable result, everyone gets from it something different.

The newpages reviewer, Shane Jiménez, brings this home to me again when he poses the theme of the story thus: "Ultimately, the story is about how the past exists within the lives of those it has produced--and how those individuals have to forge ahead with the uncertain knowledge of their own unsteady identities." Hmm. At first I thought, really? That's not what I think the story is about. But then I reread the sentence and thought some more and came to see, well, yes, that is one good way of reading this story. It's not how I would have articulated what I set out to do with this story. But it is a valid, in fact even an insightful, interpretation. I'm intrigued that this is what the reviewer took from it. It is a literary interpretation that assigns a more universal meaning to my story than I was aware of weighting it with. I would have expected a more political interpretation, along the lines of "the story brings home the horrors of the U.S. war on undocumented immigrants by focusing on how it affects the life of one child." Which, truthfully, is how I would have described it. But there's no contradiction between the two--in fact, my version is more simplistic, and I'm happy to know that, if reviewer Jiménez is to be believed, I managed despite myself to strike some broader, grander note than I was aware of.

I've found this before. Never in a public review--I've never had one before!--but lots of times in emails and conversations after someone's read one of my stories. It's not just that every reader reads a different story. It's also that the writer sometimes, and in my case frequently, writes a different story than she knows she's writing. Readers find symbolism of all sorts that I didn't know I'd included, metaphors that I managed to craft without even realizing it, and so on. I suspect this is more the case for me than with more schooled, better trained writers, writers who are well educated literarily, which I'm not. I kind of jump off the high board and land in the water and my fingertips touch bottom and when I come up for air someone who was watching tells me it was quite a serviceable dive at which I'm astounded since I don't know how to dive. Ach, what a crappy metaphor. Don't judge me for it. I just mean that I never think my writing achieves much depth but then somehow, it seems, sometimes it does. Or at least someone reads something into it, something that I didn't know I'd managed to work into it. Which speaks to the unconscious processes at play in writing. Which I should be doing instead of blogging. Bye.