Friday, January 8, 2010

The Morning Reading: Maile Meloy on POV

From Fiction Writers Review:

Q: In Half in Love there is a nearly even balance between stories written in the first-person and third-person points of view (as well as one second-person story, the stunning “Ranch Girl,” your first story to appear in the New Yorker). However, in Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It there is just a single first-person story, “Liliana,” which whetted the appetites of your fans when it appeared in the Paris Review a few months before the collection hit the shelves. Can you talk about your decisions surrounding the point of view in a story? Have you ever “saved” a story by changing the point of view?

A: If a story works, it’s usually because I’ve found the right voice for it, and the voice and the narration are so entwined that it tends to stay the way I started it. But a few times I’ve changed the narration halfway through. A story in Half in Love called “Four Lean Hounds, ca. 1976” started out in first person, and it’s a story about a man whose best friend dies in an accident while they’re diving together. In trying to comfort his friend’s wife, he ends up sleeping with her. Geoffrey Wolff pointed out to me that if the story is told in first person, you don’t know whether to trust the narrator or not. Maybe he’s lying. Maybe he killed the guy. I didn’t want that kind of confusion—I wanted a story that was true as it was told. First person suggests unreliability so easily, and unreliability might be the most effective use of it, in short stories. I tend to write narrators who are telling the truth even if the characters aren’t, which might be why almost all of these stories are in third person: for the authority.

“Ranch Girl” didn’t work until I started it in the second person. The New Yorker asked to change it to third person, and I agreed, but I always liked it better in second and changed it back for the book.

What I’ve never done is to write an omniscient short story with multiple perspectives, and I would so love to. I read Ivan Bunin’s “The Gentleman from San Francisco” a year or two ago and fell in love with it and thought I must write an omniscient short story, ideally a Russian one, right now. I tried and tried, and kept failing. Close third is as close as I’ve gotten. Someday, though.

To read the rest, click here.

No comments:

Site Meter