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“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. The conversational tone of the story implies that it is being told orally to an acquaintance or friend of the narrator. By assuming that the narrator is telling the story orally she is continuing an oral storytelling tradition that she learned from her grandmother. Her grandmother would tell her series about Baldeziwurlekistan and she in turn tells us the stories of the land where her grandmother was supposedly born.

The believability of the fantastic in this story is evened out by the believability that came with the point of view and narrating technique but was rendered less believable by the later introduction of the fantastic element. It was implied early on that the handbag was not normal by it’s very name and Zofia’s stories, but they seemed to simply be stories. The kind that you tell to children even though they are lies, like the tooth fairy and Easter bunny. It is not until Jake “took the handbag” and disappeared inside does the fantastic truly make itself known (18). However due to it being so late in the story, over halfway to the end, it seems unbelievable, the only reason I didn’t write it off as entirely unbelievable is because of the trust I had in the narrator.


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.

Link also uses first-person point of view. It allows the reader to learn more about how easily Link has believed the stories her grandmother told her. First-person point of view also shows how unreliable as a character she may be because of her perception of the stories her grandmother told her and the ways in which she uses those stories to explain the events that take place in the story. Also we are able to see through the lens of a young child, who usually believes almost anything or any story his/her parents and/or 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 for two reasons: first, to make us question whether the narrator is trying to deceive the audience; secondly, also wants to make 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 a part 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.

“And like a quagmire the terror won’t release me, because the man is speaking in the voice of my own father, and every sodbuster in the Hox River Settlement – a voice that can live for eons on dust and thimblefuls of water, that can be plowed under, hailed out, and go on whispering madly forever about spring, about tomorrow, a voice of a hope beyond the reach of reason or exhaustion (oh, Ma, that’s going to be my voice soon) – a voice that will never let us quit the land.” (109-110)

Russell left the identity of of the man Miles meets on page 103 ambiguous. This is a conscious, stylistic choice, resulting in the man having an altogether inhuman quality. This quality is enhanced by his eyes being described as “bottomless” (111). This effect leads me to perceive the man as a personification of death. Both when he appeared to Miles and when he appeared to Mrs. Sticksel, he was perceived as someone the observer was waiting for, the Inspector and Miles, symbolizing how we all are endlessly waiting for death. This connection between the stranger and death is strengthened by the man’s “harvest” being hundreds to thousands of graves (108). When he speaks, his syntax reminds Miles of the familiar voice of his father which could symbolize how, to some, death can seem familiar when they are surrounded by it everyday as Miles is with the deaths of his sisters and the death and disappearance of other settlers. Anther reason that the man is never truly introduced could be because no matter how familiar a person is with the idea of death, it is still strange when it finally comes for you.

Nothing was there. In the thick darkness I felt myself dissolving, turning into black mist, speaking into the farthest reaches of the room.

The feeling that Isabel may not be real is an interesting choice that Millhauser makes in this story. Even by the end of the story, we can’t be quite sure that David didn’t make all of it up. David even questions it when he leaves the house. He wonders if he had just dreamed it all and if the house would be there when he looked back. In a way, it seems that David has been sucked into this “other” world and within this world, he is becoming a changed person. His parents become worried, while Wolf seems eerily calm about the fact that this boy, who was originally his friend, is now spending more time in his attic than with him. There is even a moment where David realizes this, and when he goes to visit Wolf he doesn’t seem to be phased. It does seem that Wolf and Isabel are real due to small choices that Millhauser makes. For example, he shows Isabel leaving the pharmacy and through the rumors that are being spread about Wolf. Yet, when David tries to get close to Isabel she seems to be semi-formed at first. The more he thinks of her the more she takes form. He imagines her in many ways and she presents herself as more than a phantom. There is still a level of uncertainty throughout, though. David even avoids the reality outside of the dark room by running away when any light is presented. This provokes the question of reality even more. Is it possible that David was just bored and had an overactive imagination? Or is Isabel real and David can’t remember enough of her to accurately picture her when outside of the room?


room in attic

“He said that the purpose of books was to permit us to exercise that faculty. Art, he said, was a controlled madness, which was why the people who selected books for high school English classes were careful to choose only false books that were discussable, boring, and sane, or else, if they chose a real book by mistake, they presented it in a way that ignored everything great and mad about it. He said that high school was for morons and mediocrities. He said that his mother had agreed never to enter his room so long as he changed his sheets once a week. He said the books weren’t made of themes, which you could write essays about, but of images that inserted themselves into your brain and replaced what you were seeing with your eyes.”

Steven Millhauser’s short story The Room in the Attic” brings forth a sense of dramatic realism that would typically not be seen as boring. The setting itself would not be seen as something that brings forth conflict. Millhauser chooses to put a young girl (Wolf’s sister) in the attic to make the darkroom more interesting and appealing. The idea that this little girl is living in the attic tends to draw the reader in. It also is Millhauser’s way of introducing a potential conflict between the narrator and the young girl. As we discussed in class, conflict in any story needs another person in the story to be interesting and be a relatable conflict. Furthermore, when Millhauser begins the novel with, “I first saw Wolf in March of junior year. This isn’t his story, but I suppose I ought to begin with him,” he is establishing that the point of view is first person. This usually means that the narrator is unreliable. Because we know this as writers, we question whether the story is about Wolf or not; this causes us as readers to want to know the truth. As we find out, the story is not about Wolf, but Millhauser’s exposition makes us believe that the narrator has lied because he is constantly describing how cool Wolf is in the exposition and what Wolf thinks about school. We learn as we go into part II of the story that this book is about the unseen in the darkroom and the mystery of Wolf’s sister who eventually disappears. Millhauser’s writing of the dark room and what Daves thinks is in this room gives us a realistic, but magical perception and this is what makes this story fantastic.

Titles, unless they’re Fall Out Boy songs from 2006-2009, are rarely so long or descriptive, so this one caught my eye.  Right from the outset, Russell gives us

Pic from Caters News Agency (PICTURED: Seagul struggles with bread over its face before eating the whole slice). This is one IN-BREAD seagull as it got its head stuck in a piece of thin-sliced white. During a food fight on the harbours edge in Akranes, Iceland, one over enthusiastic gull managed to punch its beak right through the loaf. However, it had the last laugh, as it was able to swallow the entire piece of bread itself, with greedy pals looking on. SEE CATERS COPY

setting.  We are in 1979, in Strong Beach, and a seagull army has descended.  While we don’t yet know the significance of any of these pieces of information, the tone for the story has begun to be set, and the question of what’s implied by the army of seagulls and what their effect on the town will be. This choice on Russell’s part, to include so much information in the title, establishes setting, and while we later learn that the fact of the enormous seagull “army” is not the main driving point of the story (or is it?), they are still an incredibly significant part of the narrative.

Seagull_in_flight_by_Jiyang_ChenRussell in “The Seagull Army Descends on Strong Beach, 1979” hides the pieces of fantastic within it, while having the fantastical pieces and the world of Nal and his family very fleshed out, knowing very specific details about each character. I like how from the beginning, the mass amount seagulls surrounding Nal is noticed slightly, but not enough to pay attention to it. From the start, after getting his hamburger stolen, Russell conveys that Nal deserved that to happen to him, and Nal accepts that, eating the remains of the burger. Throughout the story, the seagulls are noted, but
not to an extent to make a large difference or ever be the center of the story. The seagulls could possibly represent the unrequited love Nal has for his brother’s girlfriend, those thoughts constantly following him around or appearing (in his mind, but also as the seagulls do), seeming to always be growing in size(more obsession over the girl). I wish the seagulls on their beach were more explained and why they were in their town, but then again, surely Russell had his reasons to leave us in question. But, I wish Russell hadn’t left us wondering at the end of the story, too, because after Nal betrays his brother and sleeps with her, there are so many questions as to why would he, why would she, and what happens a little into the future.

But to Nal’s dismay, the ladies of Athertown flocked to Samson in greater multitudes than before. Girls trailed him down the boardwalk, clucking stupidly about the new waxy sheen on his head. Samson was seventeen and had what Nal could only describe with a big laugh and the deep serenity of a grazing creature.

seagullsRussell takes the element of an unusual amount of seagulls at this beach and makes it normal. However, it makes me question what is the actual purpose of the seagulls is to this coming-of-age story. I also question if the seagulls are physically there or are they a representation of the freedom and confidence that surrounds Nal. In the above quote, Russell describes Samson as a seagull; therefore, I believe that the seagulls could be a representation of the people in Nal’s life and his surrounding environment. I also believe the seagulls illustrates what Nal longs to be like. When the seagull snatches the hamburger patty out of the sandwich, it appears that this is Russell’s way to foreshadow how Samson takes the girl that Nal likes without Nal putting up a fight. I just wish the purpose of the seagulls was clearer to me.


Emily Rapp Black is a very with a positive spirit, which was very unexpected. Though she has been through very rough challenges, she still has a great sense of humor and is confident in who she is. When she read part of her essay “Casa Azul Cripple,” I was really able to see the true authentic talent of her writing that allows the reader to be intrigued by something unfamiliar. The amazing thing about this essay is that she draws parallels between the painting of the dead babies to the death of her son, Ronan. Rapp Black’s emotions are conveyed throughout the scenes of her being in her son’s nursery and also when she switches to the scene where she is in the Mexican museum. This raw method of writing allows the reader to see the frame of mind Rapp Black is in when she is looking at this weird painting and how it is closely related to her own experiences; this authenticity allows us as readers to feel like we are there in these places with her, feeling these emotions. It is absolutely beautiful, and it seems that the writing is so natural. I will definitely be spending my spare time reading Poster Child: A Memoir and her many other works.

The gulls landed in Athertown on July 11, 1979. Clouds of them, in numbers unseen since the ornithologists began keeping records of such things. Scientists all over the country hypothesized about erratic weather patterns and redirected migratory routes. At first sullen Nal barely noticed them. (53)


The shift in point of view from dramatic third person to third person limited on the first page allows for the reader to learn about the setting  an the unnatural nature of the gulls without Nal commenting on it. This portrays Nal’s character as indifferent to everything around him and shows how wrapped up he is in his his own thoughts, so much so that he “barely notices them” (53). It also allows the original narrator to explain how the “clouds of” gulls are not a normal occurrence as well as describe the flimsy explanations that are being offered by the experts that make it clear that nobody knows why this is happening (53). This knowledge of everyone’s lack of knowledge along with the lightning quick change in point of view instantly knocks the reader off balance. Leaving them with an uncertainty of what to trust that carries through the rest of the story. It also establishes early on, along with the title, the importance of the gulls and their relationship to the setting, to the rest of the story.

Warping people’s futures into some new and terrible shapes, just by stealing these smallest linchpins from the present.

The mystery behind the appearance of the seagulls in this story is very apparent, yet it is not the focal point. Russell continues to change the point of the story as it moves along. At first, she has us believing that the story is about a teen who is always outshone by his older brother, then it’s about a family struggling through their mother’s unemployment. From there it moves to a focus on the fact that these giant seagulls are stealing pieces of people’s futures; in most cases this seems to be detrimental, but in the case of Nal, it actually helps him. The giant seagulls are definitely a fantastical part of this story, but no one at Strong Beach seems to mind that they are there. The only reaction to them is that they are covering everything in their droppings. The choice to maintain these birds as a subplot is very interesting in the fact that it keeps the reader drawn in. We want to know what brought the seagulls to this place and how they are getting pieces of the future. It is a drastic difference from the first two stories in “Vampires in the Lemon Grove and Other Stories” because in those she makes the deliberate choice to have the fantastic as the main plot. There are so many questions that accompany this story and very few are answered. The biggest question I had was the one I posed earlier. How are these seagulls gaining items from the future? What is the purpose of stealing a penny that will be minted in one years time? Were the seagulls sent to harm Nal’s family? All of these questions go unanswered and are almost forgotten as Russell pulls the readers into a story of adolescent love.

Jo Ann Callis


Penelope Slinger

Penelope Slinger

Jo Ann Callis


Image by Shannon Bool



Exercise 2

By using Google images or by clicking on the links I’ve provided, search for works by the contemporary visual artists listed below, all of whom make use of the surreal in their work. Identify a single image from which you will create a story no longer than three double-spaced pages.

Penelope Slinger
Shannon Bool
Jo Ann Canlis
Caitlin Keogh
Shana Moulton
Julie Curtiss
Carina Brandes

Step 1: Place the image you have chosen for your story on the blog.

Step 2: Write your story.

Step 3. Revise. Revise. Proofread.

Step 4. Place your story in the Exercise 2 folder on Google Drive.

Regret is a pilgrimage back to the place where I was free to choose.

4c1159e8ccad9a166220d80441379eadIn “Reeling for the Empire,” it follows Kitsune who is one of many girls captured and forced to have their bodies change in order to produce silk from their bodies. This short story is extremely fantastical, creating these creatures that are stuck in this factory. The author does well explaining the world of Kitsune and the other girls, showing us her past, the changes one goes through, and “Nowhere Mill” where they cannot leave. I think this
story is a story of not repressing your past and who you truly are, and also taking control of yourself and your own future, as Kitsune does by revolting and using her memories to create the blackest silks she can. My favorite quote from the story is: “Regret is a pilgrimage back to the place where I was free to choose.” (page 45)

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