My first thought on this short-story formed itself in my head like this: just because a story is just three pages long, it doesn’t mean it can’t unsettle or make you feel something. When I finished it (it took me five minutes to do it), I ended up thinking: well, this may be slightly confusing for someone who has never tried to write a story but likes to read some.
Because it is a story for writers. It explores the standards of storytelling albeit being a story. It makes sense if you read it.
It starts by introducing the two main characters, John and Mary, and then going through six different versions that could happen depending on what sort of personality they have, the situation they were in and what might happen to them.
I won’t spoil what happens in every version of the story but Atwood’s point is: a character needs the right development to be interesting so that the story is stimulating. That development may even be hidden behind the reasons why “Mary” stays awake to wash the dishes and puts lipstick before going to bed, where her lover lies. It’s not always obvious or noticeable but it is essential.
With this story, Margaret Atwood shows the reader how a “happy ending” can leave so much left unsaid: writing something like “and they lived happily ever after” only makes us ask “Okay, but what happened next?”. So the writer leads the reader through some of the infinite versions of the story that can come before the ending but, no matter what happens, we’ll finish the story with “John and Mary die.” Sounds really optimistic, doesn’t it?
It’s just how life is. We struggle to find a happy ending before we are close to ending ourselves. And stories that have the right realness to them are about the “How and Why”, the reasons for the way the characters act when faced with whatever comes before their eventual end.
If you’d like to read this and other short stories by Margaret Atwood, click here:
The Daily Post – Daily Prompts: Struggle