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The Pard

Read this article and then compose a short short story that makes use of the fantastic. Your story should be entitled “The Pard.” You will then read it to the class.

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wordle wordle!

Was that the beginning? Was it the first sign of a disturbance that had been growing secretly?

The fantastic in this story is surprisingly normal. Thinking about the meaning of words makes them become distorted. They end up meaning more when you think about them because their definitions take on the word itself. The fantastic becomes weird when the main character starts to ruin his relationships in order to prevent the discomfort that comes from the thought of words. The feeling of discomfort that comes from thinking about words too much is a fleeting feeling for us and in the beginning of the story it is fleeting for the main character too, but he latches onto that discomfort and allows it to engulf him. Millhauser causes an interesting reaction from the story. When the main character starts to obsess over the words we start to question their meanings and how our response to those words will affect their meaning. Its a smart choice by Millhauser because it makes the fantastic jump off the pages.

[T]hat single word, “love,” was trying to compress within itself a multitude of meanings, was trying to take many precise and separate feelings and crush them into a single mushy mass, which I was being asked to hold in m
y hands like a big sticky ball.

We’ve talked a lot about the choices a writer makes in this class, especially about point of view.  In “History of Disturbance,” Millhauser uses second person, which up until this point, we haven’t seen a lot of in this class.  The interesting thing about how Unknown
this story is told, is that at the beginning, the narrator is addressing Elane and using what seems like straightforward second person.  This begins to shift however, as we see that it’s really being told from more of a first person perspective addressed to a specific audience who is constantly being referenced.
The narration becomes much more of a self reflection as the story develops. One of the things I found ironic about this story was that despite becoming disenchanted and uneasy with the use of words, even refusing to write things down, he is still choosing to tell this story.

Millhauser also employs the tactic of starting the story at the end (in present tense) and reflecting back on what has lead up to this point.  If he had started the story at the lake, instead of at the end of the story the tone would’ve been less clear.  We wonder why Elaine is so patiently furious, what this narrator has done to her to make her so upset.  These choices Millhauser makes, set us up to maintain our interest throughout the story, they keep us reading, wanting to find out what happens next.

You turned slowly to me. I remember the lazy roll of your head, your cheek against the vinyl strips, your hair flattened on one side, your eyelids sleepy. You said, “Do you love me?” Your voice was flirtatious, easy—you weren’t asking me to put a doubt to rest. I smiled, opened my mouth to answer, and for some reason recalled the afternoon at Sandy Point. And again I felt that burst of irritation, as if words were interposing themselves between me and the summer night. I said nothing. The silence began to swell. I could feel it pressing against both of us, like some big rubbery thing. I saw your eyes, still sleepy, begin to grow alert with confusion. And as if I were waking from a trance, I pushed away the silence, I beat it down with a yes yes yes, of course of course. You put your hand on my arm. All was well.

Steven Millhauser’s story uses sensory detail in order to explain the world that the narrator wants to live in with his wife. The story includes very little dialogue because the narrator is focused on the sounds and sites around him, and the emotions these things invoke in him. Because the story is a written first person, there is a lack of understanding of the world that the readers are familiar with more dialogue, but this allows for us as the reader to be captured into the world that the husband sees and understand what that world would be like. The readers are engulfed into the husband’s head in order to sympathize with him and understand where he is coming from with wanting a place with little to no words. In one way, the husband is similar to a lot of men because he doesn’t understand why his wife asks questions like, “Do you love me?”. He dissects what seems like a simple question, but his own interpretation of the question causes the reader to understand the problems that words cause. The details of the sounds and places are more in-depth and it is appreciated more because of the lack of dialogue. Through this sensory lens, we are more appreciative of things that often get ignored because of what a person is saying or why they are saying. This story is very interesting because Millhauser is a writer so words are important to him and they are important in the story because they are what makes the scenes come alive, but the story shows the importance of silence and the amazing world you see in silence.

 

I’ve seen krill accelerate toward the maw of Team Whale, streaming bubbles, a mute shrimp battle cry.” (p.140)

In Russell’s short story, “Dougbert Shackleton’s Rules for Antarctic Tailgating,” the narrator goes into detail about these Food Chain Games in the Antarctic between whales and krill. This story is very fantastical because it takes this wild, crazy idea that made into a sports-game-esque guide in how to be prepared for and how to have a great tailgate at this much-anticipated game. Right off of the bat, the fact that one must completely say goodbye to their family, leave their job, and prepare for their own death is quite extra for a game, but in this world, that is a normal measure in preparation for the games, doing this every time before another game. It is also fantastical that the narrator travels to the Antarctic so early for the games, saying, “Honestly, for the March game I like to get down to the Ross Ice Shelf by mid-January.” (p.136) The elements around the character in this world are fantastical, too, mentioning that the “water will taste a little like movie popcorn unless you doctor it with Tang or Crystal Light lemonade. (p.138) The krill below are personified very much as the narrator and others cheer them on from above. He says, “Do they understand what they are seeing with their shrimpy compound eyes? Yes. Definitely.” (p.140)  Another silly fantastic part of the piece is that Team Whale’s costume costs so much, like when he says that “Just the fin portion costs three thousand dollars.” (p.141) The narrator eats whale meat off of hot coalsUnknown
with his teeth, which is obviously far from our normal reality, but the character’s specialty. The fact that there is traffic in the straits is an amusing fantastical detail, imagining this world where many boats are trying to get to this game in the freezing Arctic with their boats. The skua eating the kid after Team Whale had killed him is pretty gross, but fantastical as well since birds do not eat human meat. Another fantastical thing is the fact you can “lose at tailgating” because tailgating in our normal world is something that is supposed to be enjoyable, no rules, and not at all competitive, but in this world, tailgating at this specific game has many requirements to survive and is very competitive. And, lastly, the quote “Krill will surge along either side of your boat in a rosy pregame warm-up. Lots of excitement in the frozen air.” (p.144) expresses the fantastic images of krill being able to do warm-ups for their games and the krill knowing what is going on, along with such excitement in such a cold environment.

 

 

“Rule Five-A: If your wife leaves you for a millionaire motel-chain-owning douchebag fan of Team Whale, make sure you get your beloved mock-bioluminescent Team Krill eyestalks out of the trunk of her Civic before she takes off” (141)

In a second person narrative it can be difficult to convey any life of the narrator to the reader. Russell frames this story as a list of instructions, but instead of making it impersonal, and thus quite boring, and inserts life into it using narrative voice. The narrator reveals bits of his personal life via the instructions provided to the reader. The narrator is unreliable in hisdescription of what exactly occurs at the so-called tailgates. The descriptions of Team Whale seem as though they would be fairly typical of most whale watching ships, even ones that go so far south. The seeming disdain that Team Krill receives would also be typical for people who would uproot their entire life to go to Antarctica and watch krill. The story could be taking place in our world, where there is no sporting event surrounding the watching of whales eat krill, but just seen through the eyes of a person suffering from delusions who believes the recreational activity of whale watching a league sport between whales and krill.

In a novel so saturated with the fantastic, one fantastic element that stood out to me was the circumstances surrounding deaths. The two that stick out the most to me are the deaths of Melquíades and of Remedios the Beauty. The fantastic element of Melquíades’ death was not the actual death but the lasting effect it had on the household. His death was surprisingly ordinary; he was swept away by the river he was bathing in, and found “washed up on a bright bend in the river” the next day (72). His room remained the same for years, locked up until Aureliano Segundo convinced Úrsula to let him see when he was 12. The rest of the house aged and changed, but other than the “padlock whose parts had become fused together with rust” the room was, if anything, cleaner than it was when it was shut up (183). The spirit of Melquíades stayed in the room, which leads me to believe that the reason that Aureliano Segundo found the room in such good shape was because the spirit either changed how time worked in the room, or that the spirit was able to interact with the world enough to keep the room tidy. Both possibilities are intriguing ideas that, while never fully explored, leave the seed of an idea in the reader’s mind. The other most striking death is difficult to even classify as a death simply due to the fantastic circumstances surrounding it. Remedios the Beauty did not exactly die, but rather levitated until “not even the highest-flying birds of memory could reach her” (236). I took that to be an allusion to the Assumption of Mary. The Catholic influence within the novel lends itself to this connection because in Catholic belief it is ambiguous as to if Mary was already dead before her Assumption allowing for an interpretation of Mary to be alive in the way that Remedios the Beauty was. Another fantastic element was the reactions to her ascension. The only individual reaction we know of was the reaction of Fernanda. She did not freak out after witnessing the miracle but instead “kept on praying to God to send back her sheets” (236). Fernanda’s acceptance of such a miracle while being annoyed by the physical consequences provides a fairly decent explanation of her character as a whole. She is firmly rooted in the material world, even while participating in and experiencing the spiritual and religious world. These two deaths are examples of the kinds of fantastic used in most deaths within the novel, the use of spirits and religion is a key factor.

Characters that Inhabit Fantastical Elements 

One confusing element of this story is the fact that the characters have the same names and not only that, the characters have the same personality traits as the person they are named after. Though this is confusing it brings forth an interesting idea that there is no individual identity and that we as people are just like our ancestors from the previous generation. Garcia Marquez is playing with this idea that history will repeat itself, not only in society as a whole but also in families. We as the readers understand this idea because the characters continue to do the same actions done before by other family members and they make the same mistakes that it is made by their elders before them.

Melquiades haunts the family because “he could not bear the solitude of death,” which is a powerful statement about the loneliness that encompasses death.

Father Nicanor talks about “undeniable proof of the infinite power of God” because of the experiences of “levitation by means of chocolate.” Though this appears to seem quite child-like in the idea of God being undeniable because he allows you to levitate through chocolate, religious leaders, particularly Christian missionaries say similar things in colonized countries in order to gain followers.

Jose Arcadio Buendia ability to “increase his weight at will” while under the chestnut tree reminds me of the story of Sampson gaining enough strength to tear down the pillars before he died.

Ursula Iguaran who eventually loses her eyesight realizes through her inability to see that “the truths that her busy life in former times had prevented her from seeing.” This idea is similar to the idea that people are often busy with their lives that they neglect to appreciate the small things until they no longer have those small things anymore. By using her loss of vision as a way to realize what she neglected to appreciate, the readers are able to better comprehend the gravity of loss, not just through death, but in disability and the various ways, loss occurs throughout life.

Magical Realism 

This story also is framed with magical realism, which is the idea of using real, visible elements in the world and integrating it with fantasy elements. This idea allows people who are in isolated places to better understand various realities. Gabriel Garcia Marquez does this in One Hundred Years of Solitude by telling the history of Macondo through the eyes of the people who founded the city as well as the people who lived within the colonized city. By using magical realism Gabriel Garcia Marquez is no longer restrained by the typical literary functions of a novel like linear time structure. Because of the magical elements in the story, Garcia Marquez is able to talk about the events played out in the story in such a matter-of-fact tone that it makes it almost believable to the reader, which is what makes this novel so fantastic and intriguing.

One of my favorite parts of the story was when the people of Macondo were suffering from insomnia. This part of the story is an example of how Garcia Marquez uses a real-world problem, but instead of focusing on what we normally focus on when thinking of insomnia, he focuses on “its inexorable evolution toward a more critical manifestation: a loss of memory.” This is something that we as humans don’t think about when suffering from insomnia, but Garcia Marquez talks about in the context of the people who are suffering from it in Macondo as if this almost a mental illness that infects the memory part of the brain, which in some ways it does; he takes this real-world thing and dramatizes it into the fantastic that we often neglect to think about.

Time

Time is considered one of the key ways that he plays with this idea of history and a person’s perception of history in the first sentence. History is usually written by the people who have the privilege of telling it. In the story, Gabriel Garcia Marquez distinguishes that those who tell the story may get it wrong. For example, when Jose Arcadio Buendia talks about ice being “the great invention of our time” this, of course, is not true because ice was not invented by humans or any living thing, but because of the setting of the story, Jose Arcadio Buendia perceives it to be an invention. Basically, he is saying that the way in which we perceive what we see and what we remember can be fantasy, but appear to be real to an individual.

“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.”  This sentence alone is fantastic because it shows the past, present, and future in one single sentence breaking the laws of linear narratives in literature. He does this many times throughout the book by starting off many sentences with, “Many years later” or “years later”. 

The story that Melquiades writes in Sanskrit on the parchment paper is not written: “in the order of man’s conventional time, but had concentrated a century of daily episodes in such a way that they coexisted in one instant.” Not only does this particular story on the parchment papers defy “the order of man’s conventional time” it is also the way in which One Hundred Years of Solitude is told throughout the story which is realistic in the way that we remember memories.

History 

Gabriel Garcia Marquez also goes further by normalizing violence, which often happens in colonized countries. He does in his description of the electrified fence that is around the banana’s company’s compound and the assassins that shoot at 3,000 people. This idea is possibly influenced by the Banana Massacre which occurred in Garcia Marquez’s town when he was only six years old. If you think about the fact that Colonel Aureliano was a young boy when these events such as seeing ice, magnets, and flying carpets, the entire story is about how he coped with this history and his own understanding of the history of Macondo.This leads to an understanding of how Garcia Marquez took the history that he experienced during the Banana Massacre and he used that to tell the story of a fictional made up town that goes through similar things, but the history, memories, and nostalgia of it all are not remembered in the linear format that stories often portray. This allows the story to be more realistic and brings forth the fantastic elements to make us as readers believe in the town of Macondo and the events that took place before its downfall. 

One of the fantastic themes of One Hundred Years of Solitude is the insomnia plague thatInsomnia_(Washington_EP)
runs through Macondo. I found this so fascinating because it is a common illness that people experience and yet Marquez takes it and turns it into a fantastic disease that spreads through the town. He also chooses to make the characters feel more productive and even become energized from the plague. This is vastly different from the typical symptoms that we would connect with insomnia and it’s something that makes it so fascinating and gripping. Another interesting choice that Marquez made was to keep the memory loss symptom of insomnia intact, but he accelerated it to a level that is quite fearsome. The method that is created to combat the memory loss is something that we as humans do on a regular basis. We use labels to organize things, but they are also in an odd way used to remember what is contained within. The absurdity of the plague mixed with the normality of the symptoms makes the whole passage seem terrifying. There is a level of connection that Marquez accomplishes by putting in simple descriptions, such as “…not from fatigue but because of the nostalgia for dreams…” (45), are quite brilliant because that is a common theme in people who suffer from insomnia. They have the fatigue, but there is also a wanting to enter a dream world. A world where everything is better. It is tempting to stay awake all the time if one could be highly productive and manage to complete tasks that they may not have had time for with sleep. But Marquez makes the readers take those thoughts and realize that as nice as that may sound, it is not a realistic way of living. The productivity would be useful, but what is lost would be worth more than anything. This choice also plays into the cyclical aspect of the novel because the story starts out with saying that the world was so new that most items did not have names, then as they come into the insomnia plague they have to label items so that they, once again, do not lose their names.

The novel One Hundred Years of Solitude was an extremely fantastical novel with so many forms of fantastic within. My favorite fantastical detail of this world that Gabriel García Márquez creates is the magical forest that once the men slash to get through, the plants already begin growing back. The forest is described as if it is alive. Another repeated source of the fantastic in the novel that changes the reality of nature is the many crazy weather patterns that occur. There is unnatural heat, they have rain for a straight five years which diminish their crops and land in the process, and different weather that is considered magical plagues. Another altered reality would be that the fertility of farm animals being affected by sleeping with a particular woman, which of course is fantastic. Very far from our world, it is fantastic how the womerainforest-photon come to Macondo with new inventions that have never been seen before, how ice had never been introduced before, and how back then in their world, many items and objects did not have names to call them yet. Also, although incest itself is not fantastic, the fantastical piece of many instances of incest in the book is how often it occurs and how it almost becomes a normality when reading it, whereas, in reality, it is not even close to a normal occurrence. The presence of creatures is fantastic and also, the way the village itself came to be in fantastic, and how their town is isolated from the rest of the world. The idea of a gypsy ghost and telling prophecies are both fantastical. And, lastly, as Aureliano (II) is reading the history of the Buendia family and the history of Macondo, it says what Aureliano (II) was doing at that very moment, and reality is ripped away! Such a thing that would have written what you are doing right now in the present is unrealistic and fantastical, along with reality tearing apart with that discovery, and the destruction of the entire world we have been within during the whole novel.

“‘I learned from falling in love with that Koenig & Bauer. Infatuation is worth nothing. It has nothing to do with the real world.’ She nooded at the steam engine looming in the corner by her bed. ‘Me and Hercules, we have an understanding. We take care of each other. It’s a better kind of love, I think.'”

beatrice

Karin Tidbeck’s “Beatrice” was not what I was expecting the story to be. The story is very creepy in its own unique way. The idea of a man and a woman falling in love with these machines of transportation is baffling and intriguing. When Anna talks about infatuation and love, it seems like both Anna and Franz misunderstood their relationship with the engine and aircraft. Because Beatrice states that she is not happy and she was forced to be with Franz, I think that these two human beings were infatuated with their “lovers,” but because their “lovers” did not give consent, it seemed like they were infatuated with the body of the engine and the aircraft. It also makes me question whether Franz kidnapped the aircraft and she became a slave to him, without him realizing. This story was very creeping, intriguing, and mysterious in all of its elements of personifying an inanimate object to the point that someone is infatuated with it.

Although the laugh parlors existed in fact, for we all attended them and even began to form clubs of our own, they also continued to lead a separate and in a sense higher existence in the realm of rumor, which had the effect of lifting them into the in accessible and mythical.” p. 78

In this Millhauser piece, “Dangerous Laughter,” the author creates a fantastical community in which they view laughter as a dark, magical release. This short story is fantastical because, in our reality, laughing is a normal, unnoted thing, and not known as a sensual secret. We truly get a sense of how different this world is by the descriptions of these “ambiguous realUnknownms” of theirs in these laughter clubs and parlors. There is a sense of guilt and darkness of releasing one so, the groups giving in to “dark depths of laughter.” When Clara Schuler joins everyone, beginning as a neat, quiet girl, becomes a powerful laugher in these secret societies, showing that she surpasses limits that others haven’t ventured into. It was interesting how crying and weeping is brought in the clubs, proving to be a very tiring, but thrilling release. Of course, in real life, crying isn’t (from my knowledge!) a satisfying release, but more of a sad thing, only feeling relieved after, but surely not good feelings while crying. When Clara brings back their original laughter, going on for a very long time, the narrator says that she had “abandoned herself to her desire” to laugh as the narrator watched her lose herself to the laughter.

“Anna’s relationship to Hercules did seem much happier in comparison, especially when her belly started to swell. The pregnancy was uncomplicated, even though Anna sometimes complained of strange sensation in her stomach. When Franz laid and ear to her belly, he could hear clicking and whirring sounds in there.” (19)

In Tidbeck’s “Beatrice” the beginning of the story seems to feature slightly insane characters in the normal world, until it is shown, halfway through, that Anna and a steam engine conceived a child together, thus making it clear that this is not occurring in our world. The choice to introduce the fantastic element so late is risky but, in this case, it was effective in creating an interesting story. However, doing so did have some drawbacks. One such drawback is that by introducing the fantastic so late, it made it more difficult for the reader to accept that the fantastic was in fact true, causing the reader lose some belief in the story. Another shortcoming of this story is that it seems to be almost entirely exposition. The true story did not seem to begin until “The catastrophe came when Josephine was four years old” (21). This made the arc seem rushed as it was crammed into less than a page and a half. This, despite it causing a hasty story arc, was not too terrible a decision as it allowed the characters to be more fleshed out than they would have been otherwise.

It was hard to pick a good quote from this story because there were so many that could be discussed.

I know that no one is going to believe any of this. That’s okay. If I thought you would, then I couldn’t tell you. Promise me that you won’t believe a word.

This story is set up to make us question what we are being told. Not only through the narrator telling us to not believe what we are being told, but also how the story jumps around so often. It gets confusing at points, but it still draws us in because it makes us want to know how all of these different people and points will connect back to the Handbag. Link’s choices to give constant reminders that this is an unbelievable tale puts an interesting twist on fictional stories. We are taught to make our readers believe what we are saying. Link takes that bit of education and throws it out a window. In my opinion its one of the aspects of this story that makes it so interesting.

Promise me you won’t believe a word.

As writers, we often ask ourselves what we need to do to make a story believable, especially when dealing with elements of the fantastic.  Kelly Link creates believability in, what my opinion, is a clever and masterful way.  Our narrator is Genevieve, the granddaughter of Zofia who possesses the marvelous handbag.  Zofia has toUnknownld her stories all her life of the handbag and how it came from the long gone land of Baldeziwurlekistan as a gift from the people under the hill.  The entire recount feels very much like an old fairy (or faery?) tale and Genevieve is
n’t quite convinced either.  Through a doubtful narrator, (which we can see mirrored in ourselves) Link is able to try and convince us of the bag’s magical properties while Zofia is convincing Genevieve.  Her matter of fact manner and copious amounts of  knowledge of this place none of us (or Genevieve) have heard of, make it more believable.  The situation also becomes more believable at the appearance of Rustan, who we assume to be Zofia’s husband who makes occasional sorties from the handbag before retreating once again.  It comes to a head when Jake vanishes into the handbag, which sets off a series of disasters for Genevieve including Zofia’s death and the loss of the handbag.  Through this whole story we have seen the narrator believe in the handbag more and more, and we ourselves have become convinced, but the end of that last paragraph acknowledges our disbelief of such a fanciful thing and charges us, as Zofia once said to Genevieve, not to believe a word.

“Faery Handbag”

In this story “Faery Handbag,” Zofia is this magical figure throughout. The narrator describes her grandmother, Zofia, along with many of the stories she was told by her, all very fantastical about unknown worlds within her beloved handbag. The beginning we discover the grandmother had died, and it goes full circle at the end when she dies after wanting to go bUnknown-1ack into the handbag to search for Jake. The grandmother dying results in not only the loss of her imaginative, quirky and crazy grandmother, but also the loss of the handbag and the loss of Jake, too. Repeated through the story, the narrator is told she shouldn’t believe all the stories Zofia tells her, and at the end, the readers are told we shouldn’t believe what the narrator has told us. These unreliable, fantastical stories of Zofia and the narrator leaves the readers wondering, kept in the dark about the truth.

“I know that no one is going to believe any of this. That’s okay. If I thought you would, then I couldn’t tell you. Promise me you won’t believe a word.” (3)

In this moment, which is later repeated at the end of the story, the narrator, Genevieve, takes a moment to acknowledge that she is telling a story. She begs the reader to not believe the story. This, ironically, makes us more inclined to buy into the idea that the story is true. By including this step away from the story, Kelly Link makes the story more believable. It creates the feeling of someone who wants to tell the story but is burdened by the fact that they must keep the truth a secret. This choice is strengthened by the first-person point of view that is used throughout the story. By choosing to use this point of view, Link strengthens the storyteller aspect of the narrator.

faeryhandbag

It’s kind of like if you went through the wardrobe in the Narnia books, only instead of finding Aslan and the White Witch and horrible Eustace, you found this magic clothing world–instead of talking animals, there were feather boas and wedding dresses and bowling shoes, and paisley shirts and Doc Martens and everything hung up on racks so that first you have black dresses, all together, like the world’s largest indoor funeral, and then blue dresses–all the blues you can imagine–and then red dresses and so on.

Kelly Link’s “The Faery Handbag” takes the familiar story of the Chronicles of Narnia and creates a similar story to describe both the clothes in the thrift store and her grandmother’s handbag. As we discussed in class, writing a story by taking a familiar object and/or a familiar story can lead to the realism and fantasy that we as readers often enjoy.

Also, Link uses first-person point of view because as a writer it allows us to learn more about how she has easily believed the stories her grandmother told her as well as how unreliable as a character she may be. By using this point of view, we are able to see through the lens of a young child, who usually believe almost anything their parents and grandparents tell them. Link even writes, “I know that no one is going to believe any of this. That’s okay. If I thought you would, then I couldn’t tell you. Promise me that you won’t believe a word.” Link has the narrator say this to make us question whether the narrator is trying to deceive the audience while also making the narrator’s story of the handbag believable and intriguing. By introducing the story with the comparison to Narnia, it implements the fantasy aspect of the story and makes the story of the handbag more believable to the reader; it also creates a conflict between the narrator and the audience because the audience questions everything the narrator is saying. This is what makes this story apart of the fantastic realm.

Often I wondered what would have happened if I had turned to look at her, the day the curtains parted.  And I saw it clearly: the sun-filled air, the dust swirling in shafts of light, the bright empty room.  No, far better to have turned away, to have understood that, for me, imagesIsabel existed only in the dark.

“The Room in the Attic” hinges its forward movement on the reader and David’s conflicting desire to know more about Isabel, but also wanting her to remain a mystery.  Millhauser creates this conflict by setting up the situation around Isabel and why she stays up there in the dark, and spins it into something more complicated and fantastic.  Through David’s eyes, (and I’s because the point of view is first person), we see these two dramatically different worlds that he lives in, the bright sunny one of “normalcy” and the dark room in the attic with Isabel.  He creates fantasies of what he thinks Isabel looks like and at one point plots to sneak a flashlight into her room to see her face.  When given the opportunity to shine it on her however, he decides not to and feels bad about wanting to do it.  She remains a mystery, and this mysterious element of her keeps him coming to see her.   He want to figure her out almost and when, after a long buildup of planning to introduce light back into her room, she decides to open the curtains, he turns away and flees without ever having seen her face.  Millhauser builds to this emotional climax and when David turns away, what could have been a sort of “oh that’s what you look like” moment is made much more dynamic than if he had stayed.

No, the real division was between the visible world and that other world, where Isabel waited for me like a dark dream. (p.63)

The story “The Room in the Attic” by Millhauser becomes extremely fantastical when Isabel is introduced. From the beginning of their friendship, David doesn’t even know if she is real, or if Wolf was fooling around with imageshim. As their friendship develops between David and Isabel, David is drawn to this fantastic world in which everything is a mystery. What is so fantastical about Isabel is that she is almost ghost-like, hiding in the darkness and her touch
and presence fleeting. Millhauser makes us feel the mystery of her and the surrealness of this room that David comes back to almost every day. I was extremely surprised when Isabel revealed herself and David covered his eyes and ran out of the room and away from the house. It’s as if David wanted to continue living in the fantastic reality of not seeing or truly knowing. Through the story, David becomes more immersed in the love for darkness and is lured into the excitement of the unknown. Two lines that struck me, though, were when “during these seizures, I have delusions I call Isabel.” (p. 56) and “… I waved to Wolf’s mother, who turned out to be a jacket on the back of a shadowy chair …” (p. 73) because both suggest that everything that David has described in Wolf’s home may have just been his imagination. If the mother is a jacket and the family isn’t real, had David been visiting an abandoned, dark house? The darkness would have been real, but everything else could have been in his mind.

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