The Resurgence Of The Implied Author
This week, let’s examine the style of Mavis Gallant’s short story, “Voices Lost In Snow.”
Style is the way an author writes a story; it creates the voice that audiences hear when they read. Mavis Gallant certainly has a distinct style, I’d argue that one can identify her writing after a few paragraphs. What is this style?
Numerous wise ones identify several components in style, including: tone, narrator-structure, and the use of creative devices like symbolism, allegory, metaphor, rhyme.
We’ve touched on tone, or the mood of the story. Voices describes possibly sad events—an adult daughter discovering secrets about her parents, particularly about her long-deceased father. It is a story about making sense of loss—loss of childhood, of parents, of a city and way of life. But the tone is not particularly tragic. It is light and humorous. Ironic. The narrator expresses no grief; she states things matter-of-factly—and of course, this often has the greatest emotional impact on the reader.
Mavis Gallant herself said, “Perhaps a writer is, in fact, a child in disguise, with a child’s lucid view of grown-ups, accurate as to atmosphere, improvising when it tries to make sense of adult behavior.”
This quote really captures Voice Lost In Snow. The narrator describes Linnet, who is a kind of spy in the world of her parents, yet unable to make sense of their behavior till years later.
“…by taking her out of the city he (Linnet’s father) exposed her (her mother) to a danger that, being English, he had never dreamed of. This was the heart-stopping cry of the steam train at night, sweeping across a frozen river, clattering on the ties of a wooden bridge. From our separate rooms, my mother and I heard the unrivaled summons, the long, urgent, uniquely North American reckoning. She would follow and so would I, years and desires and destinations apart. I think that women pledged in such a manner are more steadfast than men.”
The prose is lyrical, but the tone is casual and matter of fact.
When Linette’s father concludes the visit with Georgie, father and daughter walk down Sherbrooke Street. “You needn’t see Georgie again unless you want to…(he’d made) a private decision about himself. He was barely thirty-one and had a full winter to live after this one—little more. Why? ‘Because I say so.’ The answer seems to speak out of the lights, the stones, the snow; out of the crucial second when inner and outer forces join, and the environment becomes part of the enemy too.”
We’ve talked about the narrational structure in the story. There is a narrator who is a character, a protagonist who seems to be writing an autobiography. She has privileged knowledge of the child Linnet Muir, but it is not expressed in the form of Linnet being a full-blown character with an inner life. It is more that the narrator remembers largely visual memories and tries to make sense of them years later. She “improvises.” Linnet is the conduit for the narrator to recast the past.
Yes, a question from the audience.
Thank you, Mr. Al. In the past, you’ve discussed ad nauseum, the concept of the implied author. How does this concept fit into Voices Lost In Snow?
“Kay—did you just call me Mr. Al or Mr. A.I.? Hello?
Mr. A One.
Well, in any case, great question. Is there another level of narration in the story, an author entity who shapes the narrator and who may not necessarily always have the same opinion as the narrator?
Praps, best beloved.
Thank you. There certainly is an entity who has written the story, making decisions about structure, scene, and character. This entity allows the narrator to begin by writing about a different style of parenting—Because I said so. This entity makes choices about language, about the personality of the narrator. However, I don’t think there’s a lot of distance between this entity and the story’s narrator. There is not the sort of tension that would arise if, say, the implied author made it clear that it disagreed with some of the narrator’s conclusions—perhaps simply by showing how the narrator is in error or is prejudiced in some way.
“There, Charlotte, what did I tell you?” my grandmother said. This grandmother did not care for dreams or for children. If I sensed the first, I had no hint of the latter…It is impossible for me to enter the mind of this agnostic who taught me prayers, who had already shed every remnant of belief when she committed me at the font.”
Perhaps it could be said that the implied author shows us that the narrator is rather disapproving of her parents and grandmother (and of Georgie). Yet, we sympathize with rather than condemn her. That is the effect the implied narrator creates—the unnamed narrator of Voice Lost In Snow is someone who is older and wiser, who is able to express beautiful and bittersweet memories of a childhood that is not idealized.
Regarding symbols and metaphor, rhyme and allegory, I say let’s look for them in some other stories by Mavis Gallant. Today, we will bid farewell to Voices Lost In Snow and move on to a fresh one next week.