Conventions of Beginnings & Endings
How many times have I told my student writers, “Don’t break the conventions of Standard Written English unless you have a compelling rhetorical reason”?
Lots and lots and LOTS of times.
Conventions give us clarity and understanding. They are important agreements between writers and readers. They allow written communication to be interpreted by both parties. Conventions are familiar. They make us feel safe and supported.
That’s why it was initially so difficult for me to get into the YA novel Bloodline by Joe Jimenez. My reading didn’t feel safe or supported because the story is told through the unconventional second person narration.
The second person!
Not first. Not third, but the SECOND person.
Why the second person?
Why would you do that to me?
Who are YOU
I haven’t finished reading If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler yet. I think that’s fitting. It’s a book that’s all about the beginnings and my weary, teacher brain didn’t want to begin summer break with a challenging, experimental, non-linear, second person narrative about lots of beginnings.
I finished Bloodline though. Partly because it was an assignment, partly because I got swept up in the story, and partly because of the lyrical descriptions by Abram, the main character.
“As they course by, the cheerleaders pause, their pompoms hissing. A trickle of students trudge through the halls, around you, like slow, tall birds, and some like star-ships zooming into other dimensions—everything spins, especially your heart.” (Chapter 2, Kindle location 244 of 1508)
The words felt like my descriptions. Sure, they were Joe Jimenez’s descriptions because he wrote them. Buy maybe they were my descriptions because I was Abram. Or maybe they’re your descriptions because you’re the reader.
Jesus Montaño, our guest lecturer for the day, related that reading in the second person is hard. It’s intimate and immediate. It removes the distance between “you the reader” and “you the character” in disconcerting ways so that each must fight to create space for one another. Fighting becomes a motif in the novel.
Novels in second person like Bloodline problematize the construction of storytelling and the purpose of literature. When the author, character and reader intertwine, questions emerge: Why do we read? What do we want from the experience? Why does a story end? What forces the ending?
It’s the forceful ending the makes Bloodline unforgettable. It’s where that compelling rhetorical reason for the second person is finally revealed. Then the narration style is forced to change.
The story ends but the question remains.
Could YOU experience a different ending?