Sunday, January 27, 2008

Kevin Brockmeier, "A Fable Containing a Reflection the Size of a Match Head in Its Pupil"

Kevin Brockmeier's story "A Fable Containing a Reflection the Size of a Match Head in Its Pupil" (excerpt), which appeared in the Winter 2007 edition of Georgia Review, is a fascinating work of speculative fiction which explores one simple question: What would the world be like if everyone was afraid to look directly into the eyes of others? The narrator describes a city in which everyone believes that the "spark of life" is contained in each person's eyes, and that "to look into someone else's eye was to risk having your spark consumed" - in other words, to have one's own life drained away. The narrator describes everyday life in this strange city, touching on practical considerations - store signs have to be hung at knee level, since shoppers always cautiously cast their eyes downward, and peepholes in front doors are drilled at a downward angle to reveal the waists of visitors and never the eyes - but more critically how this habit affects the interpersonal relationships of the residents.

Not looking into others' eyes, as the narrator sees it, does result in uncommon modesty and politeness, but also in people becoming unduly reserved and timid. And if, as the old saying goes, the eyes are the gateway into someone's soul, then not looking into others' eyes prevents one from seeing into others' souls, finding out what kind of people they really are, or truly connecting with them as fellow human beings. The narrator tells most of the story as a detached observer, as if he is an anthropologist studying a rare and newly discovered culture, but finally throws a twist at the end. Suddenly the story isn't about the reserved and timid residents of a single strange city, but about the narrator and his beloved - two people who probably regularly gaze deeply into each other's eyes and yet know as little about the soul and inner being of the other as the disconnected people of that city. The twist comes suddenly, but pleasantly, with all of the impersonal narrative of the city abruptly becoming the very personal narrative of two people who don't quite connect.

All in all, "A Fable Containing a Reflection the Size of a Match Head in Its Pupil" is an unconventional but very effective and moving story. I am quite impressed with it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

very good short story