Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Gun (Six Shorts, 2/6)


The second story in the Six Shorts collection I discussed last time is a story about a young kid called Daniel who goes through a life-changing event while playing with a gun with the kids next door. These are the same kids that his mother constantly warns him about.

The story is called, fittingly, “The Gun,” and its author is Mark Haddon. I cannot say too much about the plot without ruining the story, but the story does capture quite well the hectic randomness of childhood… and the poor choices we often make along the way.

The sentences were artisanally forged to convey descriptions that are precise and lush—even to the point of slowing down the narrative. Here is a good example of a description: “running across the second carriageway to the gritty lay-by with its moraine of shattered furniture and black rubbish bags ripped open by rats and foxes”. The lay-by is gritty. The rubble and trash form a moraine. And there isn’t just rubble or trash, but shattered furniture and garbage bags. We are told these bags are black, and we even know which animals ripped them open. Somebody might have advised Haddon against conveying so much detail since it can come at the expense of pushing the plot forward. But the story opted for detail, and it calls for a little patience on our end. It rewards our patience with clear and textured representations.

At one point, as we are gearing up for the action of a fight or a confrontation, a deer steps into the story. As it lays dying, we get this: “It’s weakening visibly, something dragging it down into the cold black water that lies just under the surface of everything.” Nice. Chilling.

This story also offers the most quotable part of the whole anthology, in my eyes: a revealing description of how, when we look back at our childhood, we puzzle over why we didn’t choose this instead of that, why we didn’t behave then like we would behave now. Haddon stresses, instead, how miraculous it is that we survived the myriad potential casualties we faced when growing up. Here’s the quote: “He will be repeatedly amazed at how poorly everyone remembers their childhoods, how they project their adult selves back into those bleached-out photographs, those sandals, those tiny chairs. As if choosing, as if deciding, as if saying no were skills like tying your shoelaces or riding a bike. Things happened to you. If you were lucky, you got an education and weren’t abused by the man who ran the five-a-side. If you were very lucky you finally ended up in a place where you could say, I’m going to study accountancy . . . I’d like to live in the countryside . . . I want to spend the rest of my life with you.

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