The One Who Holds the Moon: Subverting Cliche Through Narrative Structure

Our piece for this week is The One Who Holds the Moon by Bailee Cofer, which is a short story from Periphery 55. This piece can be found both under the Story of the Week tab and in Periphery’s online archives.

There are millions of love stories out there—in fact, I reviewed one just two weeks ago! And I’m not just talking about romantic love stories either; love between family, between friends, and even between strangers comes up so often in the literary world that many modern stories are composed of nothing but recycled platitudes about love. Yet Periphery isn’t in the habit of publishing platitudes, and The One Who Holds the Moon is not exempt from this rule. This short story from Periphery 55 takes the idea of familial love between a father and a daughter and explores it in a way that feels fresh and unique.

                There are several tricks that the author, Bailee Cofer, uses to accomplish this, but I’d like to talk about one in particular: structure. The beginning of this piece starts us off slow, with a single character and a cluster of sensory details. Lines such as “she picks her way across the rocky outcropping and squats behind a shrub” situate us with the main character in her current moment and prep us for what’s supposed to come next—a more thorough explanation of who she is, where she’s camping, and why.

                Only, that’s not what we get. Instead, we’re taken into the character’s past, where we explore the idea of the father-daughter bond through the lens of a grieving classmate. This segment shows us a little about the main character’s relationship with her own father, who is formally introduced when we bounce back to the “present” in the next paragraph. The story continues to shift between the past and the present until the ending, where we witness the only bit of dialogue between the main character and her father:

                Her father puts her to bed and sings her songs before she sleeps. Each time he finishes singing and stands to leave, he tells her goodnight and that he loves her. She says she loves him back, and then she says it again, and again, and again. If she accidentally says something else before he leaves her room, she panics and shouts.

DAD!

What?

I love you.

                Ostensibly, the italics and past-tense language here suggest that this conversation took place in the character’s past. Yet because the dialogue is separated from the rest of the paragraph, it’s possible that the conversation belongs to the character’s present as well. Regardless, by ending with this sweet, simple conversation, the piece leaves us with a concept of love that doesn’t feel cheesy or forced.

                By beginning with the character’s present reality but repeatedly returning to her past, The One Who Holds the Moon allows for a subtle exploration of how father-daughter love can grow and develop. Furthermore, by ending with a short, direct conversation between the character and her father, the piece leaves us with a concrete display of love that feels more authentic than a description, explanation or cliché might. Altogether, this piece demonstrates the power of structural choices to add new depth to common topics—not to mention the power of familial love to shape the heart.

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