Genre, form, and the angle of narration in The Juliet Stories

by Margaret Frederickson

Questions of genre and form did come to my mind as I read The Juliet Stories, but I did not once think that books were being “favored” in the publishing world if they were linked short stories. I am just amazed that writers like Snyder, and Elizabeth Strout who won the Pulitzer for Olive Kitteredge, can pull their work together to make a unified whole that satisfies the reader at the end of the book the way a novel would.

What did not come to my mind was the question of Juliet “being” Carrie. It must be all those lessons given in high school English classes, where I needed to point out to students that Earle Birney had never pushed anyone over a cliff in the Rockies,”(see”David”). The speaker in the poem and the poet are not one and the same.

Qualifications and nuance apply, as our sophistication as readers increases. In novels, the angle of narration is perhaps the single most important choice the writer makes but even in novels where the writer uses the first person, the reader should not leap to the conclusion that the narrator and the author are one and the same.

No doubt Snyder used details and events from the time she spent in Nicaragua to create her Juliet Stories, and the drama of counter-revolution in an exotic setting may seem more exciting to a Canadian reader than the second part of the book with its emphasis on a child’s death and the resultant disruptions in a family.  But the protagonist remains steady, a fictional Juliet, growing into young motherhood. Maybe Juliet was just a bit boring at the end? Perhaps on purpose?

A line from Ken Kesey’s  One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest  comes to mind : “but it ‘s the truth, even if it didn’t really happen”. As good a definition of fiction as I have ever found, out of the mouth of an unreliable narrator. It should probably apply to memoir, too, but that’s another conversation as my book-club reads Carmen Aguirre.


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One Comment

  1. Victor
    Posted October 24, 2012 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    In-depth discussion about form & content, fiction and non.

    The Facts of the Matter

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