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Friday, June 29, 2012

First Person Alternating with Third Person POV

Then and Now: The Harmony of the Instantaneous All uses first person POV in, what shall I say, an interesting way. I can't say unique because I'm sure it's been done before. I just haven't encountered it.

Story line: Stan Nelson, in his forties, is mired in nostalgia for the 1960s and the woman he lost then. He figures his only cure is to write about why he is so frozen. This isn't a hippie frozen in time. This isn't a stereotype. This is a character for whom events in the spring of 1970 in Lawrence, KS so affected him that he stays sort of locked in that timeframe.

The set up is from the first person POV: He talks directly to the reader about what he is trying to do:

I think back to the 1960s too much now. Not sane. A fixation on then is no way to deal with now. My fascination with those times is not the kind of healthy diversion with the past the way an interest in history can become a worthwhile hobby. Maybe it's worse than a fascination or a fixation; maybe it's an obsession. Can obsessions ever be worthwhile? Probably not. I know I long too much for the psychology of those times, the psychology of others then, of the me then that is so different from the selfish, cynical, jaded, boring psychology of the times, other people and, I fear, the me now..

What Stan goes on to do is to create the spring of 1970 in Lawrence, KS as he experienced it using scenes written from the third person. Like this:

Peter Thomas looked down again into his coffee cup at the small jagged pieces of broken glass. They were dispersing a film of oil as they floated on the brown surface of the coffee he had brewed for himself just a hour ago. He wondered if what Jenny, his assistant director, had told him were true: a poisonous substance coated the surface between the outer glass liner and the thermos body.

Then he tries to contact the people he has written about to get their opinion if what he has created in words is close to reality:

I tried to reach Peter later. I learned he was directing community theater on the East Coast and sent him a letter. He never replied and I never bugged him with a phone call. I was reluctant to write from anybody's point of view unless I could talk to him or her about that point of view. That was kind of a standard I set for this effort, a standard that quickly went out the window. But I got to know Jenny later on. She helped me really quite a lot. Told me about Peter, remembered things. We talked about Peter and those times over a lot of dinners, through a lot of drinks late into a lot of evenings. Those talks helped. And my own memory. Then the diaries of Melvin Washington were a real victory. Those really helped. Reality checks. All I had to do was go looking for them.
Check this entry out:

The diary from Melvin also provides another kind of first person point of view andnd the story continues. The writer talks to the reader in the first person and then creates segments for various characters in the third person and reports back to the reader how true they are. I found this approach very powerful for this novel. Especially when the end came. And the story has a love element I should only describe by repeating this first person section:

I won't do that again, enter Yen Li's mind and present the narrative from her point of view. It's improper. Indecent, in a way. And yet I enter her mind with love and tenderness to show the love and tenderness that I believed was there. To try to get closer to her understanding of the Tao, that I believe was there, too.

I have to admit. Whenever I reread this book I cry at the end. How's that for first person point of view? Worked for the writer. Important question is: does it work for the reader?

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