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“Mid-Autumn”

There are a couple of things I’d like to say about this story. It is clearly a Butler story, because all of the pieces tie into each other at the end. Unlike many of the other Butler stories we’ve read, though, this one is sort of an anti fairy tale. After we learn that the husband of the narrator and the father of the child she is speaking to is not Bao but another man, we know that this is not a happily-ever-after story like “Fairy Tale” is. This one is more like “Crickets,” in which the narrator comes to terms with losing something and decides to move on rather than lament.

I’ve written about how Butler achieves his narrators’ voices before, but the narrator in this story merits attention because she states at the beginning that she is actually speaking in Vietnamese, that she does not “speak in English nearly so well” (95) as to communicate how she feels. In this story, Butler is not writing as someone from a different ethnic background from his own in a language that is his but not hers, but as that person in her own language that is not Butlers but which he is writing translated into his own. He writes poetically, with words and sentences drawn out so that the story unfolds slowly: “My mother is dead now and cannot” (95) instead of “can’t” and “Nor could I speak English nearly so well, to tell you some of the things of my heart” (95) instead of “I can’t tell you how I really feel in English.”

Something I noticed that bothers me: the narrator frames the story in present tense, but she says that her husband “loved his Vietnamese woman for true and for always” (101). The end of that sounds wonderful and romantic, but she says “loved” instead of “loves” and calls herself “his Vietnamese woman” rather than his wife or some other less ethnic identifier.

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