Sunday, October 02, 2011

You Are Free by Danzy Senna

The first story of this collection was my favorite and the one I want to talk about. "Admission" is about a mixed race couple who are deciding whether to enter their child in private school or public school, and who receive a highly coveted admission spot in a very upscale pre-school (I had to return the book to the library, so I'm working from memory, I'm pretty sure it was pre-school). The husband wants to say no, the wife considers saying yes. But (spoiler alert!) in the end they say no. At which point this realist, quiet, but good story goes a little bananas. The admissions officer starts calling their home, visiting, essentially stalking them trying to figure out why they won't say yes... It is so weird and unexpected that it really makes the story. And because the admissions officer is a minor character whose thoughts the narrator does not have access to, we never know why she's doing what she's doing. Sort of like how we never learn why Bartleby "prefers not to" in one of my all-time favorites, Melville's "Bartleby the Scrivener". And it had me thinking--you can Bartleby pretty much any story, even the most realist and quiet. People are often inexplicable and unexplicated. Not everything in your story has to be explained. Of course, you can't Bartleby all your stories. That would be silly. But maybe if you're stuck on one, can't get it going...Bartleby it. (can you see how I'm trying to make that a catch phrase? is it working?)

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