Thursday, June 18, 2015
"The Gun," by Mark Haddon
The story I read last night was Mark Haddon's "The Gun." You know who Haddon is--he wrote that charming and sad book, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. This story is about a moment from childhood, as remembered by Daniel, a significant moment from his life the summer he was 10 years old. FYI, If a short story is called the gun, you have to apply the Chekov mandate, something like, a loaded gun in a story must go off. The gun goes off several times, but what the story is really about is not what happens in the story, but what doesn't happen.
Paradoxically, one of the things I often forget when I'm writing a story is that I should also be telling a good story. Like, something you could relate to someone else, something that you might remember as being interesting or compelling. I do not mean the surprise twist at the end, but something that makes sense within the bounds of the story but is still unexpected.
The most interesting part of the story for me happens when the narrator articulates why he's telling this particular story. It's the first in the series of life events that he describes as" " the times when something happened that was unexpected and odd. .
The other three events also reflect moments where disaster strikes, or where one's mortality is starkly revealed (seeing a barn burn after it's struck by lightning during a storm, a cow falling through a factory roof, and getting a call from his mother after (he later learns) she has already died. The fourth story is the one that the narrator is telling now, the day his classmate and he are running around the woods carrying a gun they found.
The gun does go off, several times. But no one dies. At least, I don't think anyone died.
There was one very strange part of the story; and I can't tell you if this occurred because I was tired while I read it or if it was Haddon's intention. Part of the story involves the friend shooting a deer and then the two of them dragging the dead animal back to the house and skinning it with the rest of the family. I had the weird impression that maybe it wasn't actually a deer they killed or a person; if this narrator had revised what really happened to be able to live with it.
Okay, wait, I just re-read the passage. The reason I'm confused is because the narrator isn't sure what happened at first "a part of him still thinks of the deer as human. A part of him thinks that, in some inexplicable way, it is Robert transformed."
Here's part of his explanation of what inspired him to write this story:
"Good stories seem to come from some weird zone it's impossible to access in retrospect. After all, if we knew how they came into being they'd be a damn sight easier to write. I know simply that I'd been haunted for a long time by the image of two boys pushing a pram containing a dead deer across a dual carriageway several miles away from where I live, a road I'd driven down many times. Where the image came from I have no idea, only that it had a peculiar charge and that it stuck with me. The story grew around it much as those blue crystals grew around the string you left hanging in a jam jar of saturated copper sulfate at school (O.Henry, 345)"
Most memorable physical description of a character from the story: "He has a biscuit unwashed smell and bones that look slightly too big for his skin."
What to steal: Ask people if they have any stories that include brushes with death or incidents of the supernatural. Dan has a terrible car crash that he was in when he was about 17 when he flipped his car and almost killed his girlfriend, her twin sister, and this other friend of his. Luckily, they landed in a ditch near a doctor's house and the doctor, on hearing the crash, came out and helped save them. Dan remembers reaching over to see if his girlfriend was okay, and feeling a gash in her neck with warm blood running out of it.
You can have your own inspiration by readiong the full length pdf of the original piece, which appeared first in Granta and then in The O. Henry Prize Stories 2014: http://web1.asl.org/jambalaya/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Mark-Haddon-The-Gun.pdf