Analyzing a Short Story: Kevin Brockmeier

Tonight’s discussion of a Best American Short Stories selection in our fiction workshop revolves around “Space” by Kevin Brockmeier, taken from (guess where) the 2003 edition.

Brockmeier controls language with amazing authority. The story focuses on how a father and his teenage son, Eric, deal with the suddent death of their wife and mother, Della. She was the anchor of the family, and now two men who don’t know how to communicate with each other are left to support each other. Their dialog is minimal, reflecting their reluctance to share feelings with each other. Most every exchange of words between Eric and Dad revolve around the mundane, rarely breaking into their inner thoughts. they even answer questions with new, rhetorical questions, letting them fill the silence, the space in their family left by Della’s death. And when the conversation does find its way to Della, both father and son are quick to turn it away.

The story progresses through the sparse dialog and other simple communication. Eric and Dad speak to each other in random bursts of short and long while other communication in the piece is deliberate, patterned, and streamlined. For example, the katydids “are out there calling their names,” communicating on a synchopated schedule with a call so consistent it’s an accurate temperature gauge. Fireworks are launched at timed intervals, and the patterns they create are usually distinct, crowd-pleasing images.

Finally, there’s the beam of light shooting into space, Della’s light aimed high to the sky from her flashlight. It sends a direct signal to the distant world she hoped she was lighting. All of these types of communication, all laid throughout the piece, serve to deepen the relationship between estranged father and distant son.

Two comparisons spring to mind with this story. The Stanley Kubrick gem, 2001: A Space Odyssey has a running time of 148 minutes, yet the film only features 60 minutes worth of scenes containing recognizable spoken dialog. Then there’s playwright Harold Pinter, well-known for increasing tension in his work by using silence and deliberate understatements in dialog that already concentrates as much on the inflection and nuanced delivery as the content of the characters’ speech. Two situations in which silence is used as a craft choice to great effect.

I brought this story for analysis in a fall, 2005 fiction workshop and it had enough of a profound experience on my peer, Jon Surdo, that he brought it in to talk about this time around. Looking at my own presentation essay (which was more like two paragraphs worth of talking points and the above-mentioned comparisons to 2001 and Pinter), I can see how my craft analysis skills have expanded during the program. I’m excited to give this story one final ‘go’ tonight for what I hope will be profound, academic, and heartfelt analysis.

-nm

[tags]kevin brockmeier, best american, short story, walter mosley, father son story[/tags]

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