In Loving Miriam: A Study of Spoilers

            It is not often that we get definite genre fiction here at Periphery.  While looking back through Periphery 50 I stumbled across In Loving Miriam and had to share it.  

            What I was reminded of the first time I read through Asmita Gauchan’s wonderful story was a Shakespeare class I took (Bear with me here).  The class was about the four great Shakespearean tragedies with which, at the time, I was unfamiliar.  The professor, early in the lecture, mentioned off-handedly that all of the protagonists died in the end of their respective plays.  I was shocked that the endings would be spoiled so cavalierly for those students like myself who hadn’t read the play.  Apparently I was not alone in thinking this, because the professor stopped, turned to the class and said, “It doesn’t matter that they die, that isn’t as important as the path that brings them there”

            I think about that quote now, every time someone tells me they binged through a full season of a show because they ‘just had to know’.  I wonder about that validity of my professor’s statement.  The pull of knowing what happens at the end of a story is incredibly powerful, be it who sits on the Iron Throne or what is happening in Hawkins Indiana.  No one was asking what foreshadowed those things, or how character development and agency caused it; but how come we don’t ‘just have to know’ why that character become king or queen, or what caused the incidents around Hawkins Indiana?

            I have to imagine the richness of the story, the depth of it, comes from the road to that explanation.  Once the pieces of ones world have been put back together in a post understanding revelation, why does one revisit a story? It can’t be to experience the shock again, it has to be how the story got to that shocking point. Certainly my professor was correct about Shakespeare, but what about In Loving Miriam?

            What I find so interesting about the structure of In Loving Miriam, is that despite the fact that it holds its own twists, the start of the story is the biggest: Miriam’s suicide. From her suicide note, the story works to show how Miriam came to take her own life. The story of Peter’s journey to resurrect her is mostly about what caused her to take her own life in the first place. Reading the story again, the world painted by Gauchan with it’s interactive ads, floating buses, and futuristic milkshakes all take a backseat to fleshing out these characters, to showing their relationship and it’s eventual end.  Even the title seems to take the stance that the importance of the story is not its end, but what the effects of what happens when one loves Miriam.  The story skips the shock factor in order to allow the reader immediate access to the richness of how the story came to that shocking point.

            A now (in)famous study at UC San Diego found that people tend to like stories more if they are ‘spoiled’ first.  I wonder if that is because spoiled stories allow reader to see deeper into them upon a first reading.  I think this is an incredibly interesting topic and would love to hear what you all think about spoilers and In Loving Mirriam, so drop a comment and let us know!

            Here is the link to that study for all of you skeptical readers out there

Afternoon Nap: A Study of Suspense and Trauma

            The story this week after returning from the 4th of July break, is Afternoon Nap by Rai Ahmed-Green.  It was printed in Periphery 54 and can be found under the story of the Week tab.  The Periphery Blog is a blog about writing, narrative, art, and everything in between.

            The first story I ever read from Periphery was Afternoon Nap by Rai Ahmed-Green.  It is a story that ran in Periphery 54 and it shocked and awed me.  Upon returning to it, I found myself feeling the same way.  What sells the story for me, however, is not the gruesome imagery, nor the palpable sense of anguish and unfairness, but how Ahmed-Green frames the story, and how he builds suspense. 

            It’s funny looking back in this story to realize that it starts with a young girl building a budget for student council and ends with her vengeful spirit killing a family.  The distance traveled between those to points is incredible.  The shock that comes from the initial murder is all the more potent because Ahmed-Green takes time to misdirect the reader away from what is going to happen.  The first paragraph of Afternoon Nap, with its worries about a Trigonometry test and prom, could easily fit into an entirely different story.  Taking the time to fill the girl’s world makes the stories disregard for those concerns even more shocking.  Just as the girl never gets to experience those things that once filled her life, neither does the reader.  They are presented only to be taken away.  Those very first things the reader learns about the girl’s world are ripped from them, just as they are the girl.  Afternoon Nap could have easily started long after the girl’s death, but it would have lost what makes it stand out. 

            An interesting way that Afternoon Nap creates suspense is by focusing on specific details when something horrible is happening.  After the girl ‘wakes up’ and discovers the murder of her family, she spends a great deal of time discussing her mother’s sewing. 

The stitching is immaculate, patterned to resemble butterflies and flowers; a perfect dress for a beautiful spring day. The girl always loved to watch her mother sew.  (Ahmed-Green)

As a reader I was on the edge of my seat this entire paragraph.  I didn’t care about the detailed stitching or the pattern of the dress.  I care about the mother who was just murdered.  The girl takes her time to examine every detail of the situation before finally looking directly at her mother.  One can imagine her trying not to look, trying not to comprehend how her life has been irrevocably altered.  Not only does that specificity create suspense, it sets up the theme of lost scraps of fabric, while also showing how hesitant the girl is to accept the fate of her family. 

            The same pattern can be found with the Benise family at the end of the story.  All of the details about the commission on the house, and the lack of haggling keep the reader from what they really want to know: what the girl is going to do.  How is she going to react to these intruders into her home?  By the time the reader gets an answer to this question suspense has been built throughout the entire conversation. 

            More than its violence what stands out to me about Afternoon Nap is the pain that both causes and stems from it.  The girl’s frustration with being forgotten, the unfairness of a life cut short, and the inability of others to understand how she feels are all very human emotions.  Underscoring all of these points is the need for others to understand how one feels.  The reader can understand the girl’s pain, can understand why does what she does even while they are horrified at it.  This was a story that shocked me, and continues to do so, but more than that makes me sympathize with a scared young girl who can’t find relief.  Who is so angry about the end of her life, how quickly it was forgotten, and how little any of it mattered, she forces that same horrific experience on others.