Last time, we were musing about what connects the sections in Casting Shadows, that there seems to be a pattern of the narrator describing a situation she’s in and then in the next section she writes of an emotional reaction that may be related to it.
Often what seems significant is the reaction left out, and I dare say this gets us into the delicious topic of first-person narrator unreliability. For example, the narrator has been invited to go on an outing with her friend, the friend’s husband, and children but the friend falls ill and cannot go, so the narrator goes along on a trip dripping with romantic overtones. She wonders if the husband says she is “stunning” (he may say it, it’s ambiguous). She has a moment of panic at the thought that she and the husband may fall into an abyss together. Then in the next section, as I outlined last time, she recalls being clumsy and having difficulty balancing as a child. What seems left out is the range of her feelings. It would seem she might question herself at desiring her friend’s husband, feel guilt, that she might be angry at him for being so confusing, leading her on in a sense. In fact, the character of the husband is a curious one. Why is he leading the narrator on? Surely, he must realize they are attracted to one another, the scamp. The narrator is, shall we say, very available. Yet, as does the narrator, we only have his limited response to puzzle over.
The narrator leaves a lot out of her narrative indeed. It seems at times to be a carefully manicured presentation that shows her unhappy and lonely, as well as simply desiring her friend’s husband without guilt or regret. In the next section, she admits to feeling “off-kilter” since seeing the guy. She wonders what it would be like “to take things further,” imagining the sound of his voice, the hair on the back of his hands. Not much guilt, my friend. She finally thinks of him phoning her and proposing they have an affair. Without any sense expressed of how acceptance would betray her friend, she waits actively for this call. However, when the call finally comes, it poses a much different request, the friend’s father is mortally ill, the couple has left to be with him; can the narrator walk their dog?
Perhaps this is simply a good showing of the denial people experience when they’re considering an infidelity. But it doesn’t make the narrator likable. And, best beloved, she is unreliable in that she only describes one side of her innerness. Unless she’s a psychopath who doesn’t experience conflict, but I don’t think so. In Phelan’s sense, she is “underreporting” herself. She may be selfish; however, ultimately, in this story, there’s no affair. Instead, we have the delightful image of the narrator gluing a plate together, getting glue all over her hands, and laughing at herself. Yes, she’s glued her fingers together, but her predicament becomes funny.
When that happens, I like her.
Of course, what the narrator tells we the readers is determined by the implied author who structures the story. The implied author could show all possible facets of a character but in this case, chooses a limited range in order to create a particular, nuanced story.
I think we should pause here, as our “blogship” is headed toward the sea of ethics—not in the traditional sense of a pronouncement of judgement on the “moral lessons” of a story, but in the sense of whether a story is a “good friend” in Wayne Booth’s formulation. Reading a story is compared to meeting someone: what is it like to meet and be with the implied author of Casting Shadows?
Till then. Full speed ahead!