Saturday, December 20, 2003
Addendum: And here's the other thing about first-person narratives. Think about a significant event in your life, an important day, and then sit down and write about it, including lots of dialogue and detail. I tried this the other day. I picked a day that should have been easy - September 11, 2001. I did a good job with the overall narrative, even without consulting my journals. But when it came to dialogue, and there must have been a lot of it, I drew something just short of a blank. So, were I to write a story or an essay about my experiences on 9/11, it's a given that I'd be an unreliable narrator. Most of the dialogue, if I included dialogue, would be fictional, based on my fading memories of conversations. Now, imagine that the event that's being narrated happened ten or twenty or fifty years prior to the present of the story, not a mere two years ago.
How many actual lines of dialogue could we trust any narrator to recall? After a few years, how many particular events could even be accurately recollected? I have a very good long-term memory, but I know that were I to sit down to write a story about a day in high school or the night I first saw The Empire Strikes Back (1981) or the first time I collected from the Upper Cretaceous rocks of Alabama (1979), I'd basically be making shit up.
In "The Dry Salvages," I'm countering this by presenting a narrator keenly aware of these problems. They are noted as a caveat to the narrative.