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If this story had only been about the main character and her mother, then it wouldn’t have been nearly as effective, nor would it have felt as real. Vaughn bringing the whole family into the story adds so many more dimensions of emotion and of rich detail. This simple story of a young woman forced  to watch her mother come to terms with the illness that she suspects may take her life, becomes far more poignant seeing it through the flashbacks to the mothers failed attempt at starting a career, the anxiety and suspicion of the aunt who can tell a secret is being kept and the facade that the main character must maintain to protect her mother, as well as the tragic deaths of the father and grandmother.

However, I think that part of the challenge for me, as a young writer learning from Vaughn’s work, is to go beyond deciphering how and why she includes the extra characters. The real key is to understand how those characters and scenes function as an exploration of the main character. Though it’s written about the mother from the daughter’s point of view, we know, from class discussion, that the whole story is really about the main character.

I felt that a few of the most telling scenes in  the story were when the narrator spoke about her reaction to the events being described. For example, when her father took her out to the lake to “set matters in order,” she mentions how she felt “inarticulate and fearful” like a young child in the face of her father’s cold practicality and felt a “sense that there were always secrets to be kept from someone else in the family,” which related painfully back to the role she has to play as her mother’s confidant in the face of her aunts curiosity. Another scene that I felt beautifully brought the narrative back to the main character was when she discovers why her mother had been ripping the photos from the albums.

“I want to weep. I see that my mother’s target has not been the family, as I had imagined. Is had been merely the pictures of herself that are blurry or unflattering. All morning she has labored on the family photo albums like an editor, expurgating the ugly likenesses of herself in order to leave an attractive vision for me when she is gone.”

Seeing her mother in the process of building up a new facade–this time, one directed at the main character, not one she’ll be confidant too–breaks her heart and concentrates the reader’s eye on how the pain of these sad circumstances is taking a toll on her.

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