Much has been written of the unreliable narrator.
Maybe too much?
What is objective, after all? Any narrator worth their salt has their own cutlery to grind, if only a butter knife. Surely, within every narrator there’s a degree of unreliability, large or small. From the first-person “madman” often employed by Poe, to the third-person free indirect voice used by Jane Austen and by later modernistic writers. And here, in the accompanying story: “The winter would not stop and now Barney was afraid it could not stop and something else had taken control.”
In the most unhinged narrations, adversaries are everywhere and in every thing, even the inanimate. Danger is mistaken, invented. The order of events are not quite as they should be. The motives of other characters and even the characters themselves are often fabricated. Setting is perhaps fluid and shifting. The not-quite-reliable narrator can be said to not see the forest for the trees.
But in this trek through the woods, whether mad dash or pleasant stroll, shouldn’t the trees themselves be meticulously described, be startlingly clear and alive, nearly hyper-realistic, even in memory? Especially in memory. Within the narrator’s narrow vision, that particular line of sight through tall greenery, certain items and events have lives of their own. Their images remain, long after the narrator passes through.
The wind between buildings. A plate of eggs sitting on a stool. A misplaced and found pipe.
Insignificant things in themselves maybe, everyday things possibly, but while other aspects in the narrator’s world –setting, character, plot – waver and fade, here are realistic renderings, hard stamps on the narrator’s mind.
A kiss on a cheek. Dates on tombstones. A fringe of green grass meeting hard gravel drive.
These motifs move beyond metaphor. Maybe they’ve leapt into myth. Of course, that’s all in the eye of the narrator. They continue to needle, haunt, nag. To the rest of us, the details remain very real, very lucid. Long after events have passed, long after this poor soul of unreliability has vanished, their concreteness breathes on.
BD FEIL is a fiction writer whose stories have appeared in Mississippi Review, The Literateur, The Linnet’s Wings, Mulberry Fork Review, The New Guard, and many other places. BD Feil is a poet whose poems have appeared in Poet Lore, Slice Magazine, New Haven Review, New Plains Review, Connecticut River Review, Broad River Review, Summerset Review, and many other places. BD Feil currently writes from Michigan.