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In “Snow” by Robert Butler, the author really captures the narrator as a person, giving her flaws, interesting quirks, insecurities, and realistic thoughts. She feels like an outsider, a person from Vietnam who has not become an American yet, but has not found a Vietnamese community in the United States either. She thinks this may be because the other Vietnamese people have already become Americans. The author shows how the narrator has insecurities and feels like a loner, not something that is uncommon in literature, but it is done in a way that doesn’t feel over the top. It feels believable and shows a real human desire to want to belong and worrying that everyone else fits in. This idea that she doesn’t view herself to be an American yet carries on throughout the story but when it is mentioned she doesn’t come outright and say she doesn’t feel like she belongs, it is written more subtly. She talks about how she thought all Americans celebrated Christmas, even Jewish Americans, while she herself said she doesn’t celebrate it because she is Buddhist. In this moment she is clearly setting herself apart from Americans who celebrate the holiday, no matter what their religious affiliation is.

Her dialogue also makes her feel like a real person. In some places, it is almost painfully awkward. When she says “I am not a lazy girl” it felt awkward, like she was a real person speaking instead of a character having lines written for her. She also questions herself after she says things, another realistic trait. She sweats, she over-analyzes, she worries.

Another moment that felt real was when she finds out that Mr. Cohen lost his father but she does not feel sympathy for him. That seems like a real human moment when she knows she should be more understanding, but she isn’t. It gives her a very relatable trait that maybe isn’t positive but is real.

Snow

The setting of a restaurant creates a kind of entrapment to the narrator and the man named Mr. Cohen. The store, Plantation Hunan, sounds like it could be a bustling place with lots of people. Yet, in the story, it is described as having only two people in the main area, with a divide between them and the kitchen staff. This story works in the fact that the setting contributes a kind of ‘zero-in’ on the characters and turn our attention to not only what is going on, but what is happening in the narrator’s head without taking too much out of the present day story.

The narrator herself is also written well. You could tell she is a foreigner who came to the United States rather than someone who was born here or who had been here for a long time. For example, she believes that all Americans celebrated Christmas, while not knowing that Jewish people celebrate another holiday. She is intrigued by the grandfather clock, saying that in her country Vietnam they don’t have such clocks nor do they need one. Her referring to it as ‘Grandfather’ also speaks of a cultural difference, but it also seems rather cute in my opinion. She is also rather self-conscious and a bit paranoid around Mr. Cohen, the former thinking he would think of her as a ‘lazy girl’. This is a nice telling of our narrator’s personality and quirks.

The first person narrative makes us know a lot about one character’s thoughts, but we don’t really come to understand any more than that. What little we know of Mr. Cohen comes from the narrator’s description of him and their conversation between each other. To me, Mr. Cohen has a quiet mystery about him. The quietness could also be attributed to their setting, as mentioned above, in which there are only two characters in the room for the duration of the story.

 

 

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Pharmacy

The characterization of Henry (senior) is done primarily through his view and actions towards others. In other words, through very little telling and mostly showing without any analysis of his actions. Strout trusts her readers to be able to develop their own thoughts and understanding of Henry. Besides the shifting between past and present at the end, I think there is another acknowledgement of time through the detail that both the men are named Henry, and Henry Kitteridge feels “a longing to be in the presence of the young couple, their faces turned to him with a diffident but eager interest as he recalled his own days at the university many years ago.” Henry (senior) also has in common with Henry (young) a longing for Denise and a college football career, but Henry Thibodeau had more talent in sports and can truly call Denise his.

I did not realize until this morning that Pharmacy is an excerpt from a novel entitled Olive Kitteridge – which makes me question who this story is really about. I originally thought it was about Henry Kitteridge and how he is dealing with old age, death, and the ways in which he tries to stay connected to his youth, but perhaps I have missed something deeper and more complex about Olive.

Pharmacy

“She had a darkness that seemed to stand beside her like an acquaintance that would not go away.”

The relationship between Olive and Henry is painful, but particularly painful in the screen adaptation. Because we didn’t have any reading for Thursday, I decided to watch the “Pharmacy,” episode of the miniseries “Olive Kitteridge.” Olive is bitter and angry and her only laughter, her only happiness comes in spite of Henry. The episode takes away the element of surprise that I had loved so much in the writing. In the first ten minutes, Olive is seen at the school with Jim O’Casey. Their flirtation is glaringly obvious and she laughs, not at him but with him — real joy in her eyes. She goes to visit the mother of one of her students and we see an element of compassion that doesn’t even seem to be present in the story; the friend is suicidal and Olive attempts to coax her out of her dark thoughts.

Denise is presented as a particularly awkward character. She is sweet and friendly, but seems more talkative than I had pictured when reading the story. It’s clear from the moment they meet that Henry is very fond of her. I enjoyed the miniseries episode, but as usual I preferred her writing. I also couldn’t understand why Jerry wasn’t fat. His size and chubby fingers are a vital part of “Pharmacy,” and something that was not incorporated in the tv episode.

 

Pharmacy

In “Pharmacy,” Strout creates a complex story without using terribly complicated diction or syntax.  Her writing is very straightforward, yet elegant and a beautiful.  For instance, when Henry talks about his drive to work, Strout’s language puts you right into the scene and creates a very beautiful setting.  Another pro to this style is that her character, Henry, is not an overly complicated man.  Henry is seen as someone who enjoys the little things in life.  He has his routine, he ignores the complaints of his wife, and he goes about his daily life.  It is only when Denise comes into his life that we see Henry start to wonder about love and his relationship with his wife and those around him.  The style of writing still stays the same though, reflecting the thoughts and actions of Henry.  Straightforward and uncomplicated.  This benefits certain scenes, for instance the scene where Denise’s husband dies, more shocking and profound.  The language and style in this story really helps it flow and move easily while still providing depth and complex thoughts and ideas.

“Pharmacy” by Elizabeth Strout has a sort of layered effect that adds depth to the story. In the present moment the story is about a man receiving a letter from an old employee about her present life. However, the story moves fluidly through time, which is impressive because it is a short story and still covers so much ground. At one point the story is about two couples sitting down to dinner, at another it is about three coworkers having cake to celebrate an accomplishment, at another it is about a funeral after a young man has killed his best friend, leaving the young wife widowed. The camera of this story zooms through time, moving back and forth, which could be confusing or overwhelming but in this story it is subtle and well-done. One of the things that makes it so well-done is that the camera comes into focus and pauses on moments like these, small moments, with dialogue, details, specific actions. The reader gets to land in a moment, observe the characters, and make decisions about the conflict without being rushed through time.

Then the camera moves to a different moment, a different event in time and that creates the overarching points of the story and the theme. This movement over large periods of time, from the moment Denise and Henry met, to the letter she sends him where she finally signs it with love, creates well-developed characters, a more interesting plotline, and depth. The layers of the story with the specific scenes allows for the long time frame without the story feeling like a summary but the span of the story is necessary to capture the larger ideas and themes.

The Pharmacy

I think what I enjoyed is the connection done by Trout in regards to the death of Denise’s husband. You wouldn’t really see it coming until the moment Henry Thibodeau’s death comes along and then you remember that it is kind of hinted at in the introduction of Tony Kuzio.

I think the lack of a proper love story, a substantial touchy-feely kind of love, is what makes this story great. There is a distance between Henry and his wife, and Henry and Denise. Now, I feel like there shouldn’t be a love story going on between Henry and Olive, his wife. Olive is written as a woman who seems to hate everything and always have something negative to say about everyone. Yet, Trout makes no indication in her story that Henry hates her back. I feel like this shows Henry’s pettiness, and it heightens when he falls in love with Denise.

The death of Denise’s husband is also a turning point for both Henry and Denise, to tell the truth — it is basically the crux of the story. But, death is a huge turning point, which is why Trout uses this in her story. This shows an impact in the lives of all those affected and those close to the affected.

Again, in the end, we get another plot twist. The thing is that Trout makes us believe that somehow Denise and Henry will get together, as if somehow Henry will let go of Olive. Yet, we see Denise with Jesse, who to tell the truth, is foreseeable if you catch onto his and Denise’s’ interaction. There is evidence that they could get together by the small talks they have. The plot is structured in a way that we never really knows what happens next, and when it does happen, we readers are left with a mild surprise.

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The structure of “Thirteen Wives” by Steven Millhauser is what stands out the most in the story, despite its strange, surreal content. Instead of a narrative, there is an introduction and then numbered paragraphs about each of the 13 wives. I think it’s the best way the author could have conveyed this situation and made his point about each of the wives without it getting long and confusing and muddled. Through this structure the author can focus on each of the wives and describe them instead of putting them into scenes that would show their character. Scenes would also detract from this surreal story, since it’s not based in a concrete reality.

Since the story is not set in a world we know and understand, it is ambiguous and left up to the reader to determine what is happening. I think this sense of mystery, created through the simple description of his living situation, and then descriptions of each of the wives, allows each reader to take what they want from the story, which is important as all readers have different pasts and different things they need to gain from stories. One reader might think that the thirteen wives are just the different sides of one wife as people are ever changing in relationships and moods. Another reader may see the 13 wives as different people the narrator has loved throughout his lifetime, or representations of the different people in the world. Since the story is so perfectly strange and unclear, readers have more freedom for interpretation and understanding. This strangeness and lack of clarity is created through the lack of narrative, the strange structure, and the descriptions of the different wives.

Love

Again, the first sentence of this story is particularly striking. Alice and Ian meet and reconnect at a funeral of their friends, something I found somewhat comical, especially considering the fact that Katinka was never particularly faithful to her significant others. But the element of the story morphs into the love story about Alice and Ian, their relationship complicated by her dissertation. I hadn’t bothered to notice that the subject of her dissertation wasn’t revealed…that is until it was revealed. Both Ian and Alice seem to have had somewhat troubled childhoods — Alice’s mother being a drunk and Ian’s father being less than faithful. There’s some truth to the saying “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” in the context of this story. As Alice becomes progressively paranoid, she picks up the Vodka bottle. But O’Connor deliberately mentions the “plastic orange juice glass,” a vivid reminder of her mother’s alcoholic past.

O’Connor’s detail, as the story moves forward, becomes increasingly chilling. I was able to feel Alice’s anxiety as she listens to the crunch of the leaves and stares into the “leather brown,” face of the bizarre old man. Heightening the readers frustration and anxiety is the development of Ian as a somewhat detached character. He ignores Alice’s paranoia and assures her that the noises are just a bear, wandering drunkenly through the woods. The sexual tension within the story is also an element that caught my eye. Was Ian only interested in that aspect of their relationship? He seemed to have some redeeming moments, holding her in his arms, or laughing with her and teasing her in the boat. But I left the story sure of his infidelity. The idea of the “crazy girlfriend,” accused of imagining any sort of affair is one that is very familiar. Alice doesn’t trust any of her gut instincts or any of her suspicions and brushes them all off, fearful of seeming neurotic in Ian’s eyes. The story ends without any sort of confession, leaving the reader with some amount of suspense and conflict.

I think it is interesting the O’Connor chose to withhold from the reader what Alice’s dissertation is about. I am unclear of the effect this has on the reader, but it seems significant – the story is a very close third, so this seems to be the greatest cause of distance between Alice and the reader. There is certainly something inherently academic about going to a isolated cabin in the woods, most likely due to Thoreau’s Walden. The boat scene is also familiar, and even a bit cliché, but I think that is okay to have such a moment in a relatively long story. I love the effect of the two opposing descriptions of the sunrises as the story develops. The first on page 120 is so warm and romantic; it is a sunrise that one would expect to be described in a love story. By page 125 the sunrise is described as “the ashen light of approaching dawn turned the leaves outside her window the color of cooked liver…”

The suspense is effectively created by the old man on the shore, noise in the woods, the oars being replaced and continues on through the noises under the deck and the man on the dock up until the end when Alice is running to her car. The metaphor culminates here – what you do not know is perhaps the most frightening of all. Alice fears of Ian’s infidelity.

 

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