Two books I read recently in my ongoing LGBT reading challenge — Nancy Garden’s ANNIE ON MY MIND and Julie Anne Peters’s LUNA — employ the same interesting technique: the narrator-protagonist is really telling you the story, as evidenced by their struggling to remember particular details.
It’s more pronounced in ANNIE ON MY MIND, where the narration repeatedly includes passages like,
I remember we were both watching the sun slowly go down over one end of the beach, making the sky to the west pink and yellow. I remember the water lapping gently against the pilings and the shore, and a candy wrapper — Three Musketeers, I think — blowing along the beach. Annie shivered.
Sometimes — I can’t find a good example — Garden has the narrator Liza trying, and failing, to remember details that are important to her (who put their hand on the other’s arm first), even while she remembers other things that don’t matter. You get a strong sense that the story is her actively constructing her memories for you.
And you get a sense that she’s really explaining things to herself, as much as to you, when she adds narrative commentary like, “But maybe — and I think this is true — maybe we also just needed more time.”
When Garden isn’t highlighting the imperfections of Liza’s memory, or her struggle to make sense of it, she’s sometimes drawing attention to the fact that she does remember, as in this passage:
I nodded, trying to smile at her as if everything was all right — there’s no reason, I remember thinking, why it shouldn’t be — and I sat down on the edge of Annie’s bed and opened the letter.
Which, for me, pulls up that recognizable feeling of knowing something is wrong but pretending to yourself that it isn’t, far more than if Garden had simply told us that that’s how Liza felt. For some reason, the fact that she remembers feeling that way matters.
It actually reminded me of nothing so much as a moment toward the very end of the pilot episode of MY SO-CALLED LIFE. Angela and her mother reconcile after their fight over her hair (which she has dyed “crimson glow,” and which her mother says looks like it “had died — of natural causes”). The scene ends with Angela’s voiceover narration, “I fell asleep right there — I must have been really tired.”
MSCL does not, in general, have WONDER YEARS-style narration, where older Kevin Arnold is looking back; most of the narration is real-time. And partly, this was the pilot and they were probably still figuring out the limits of their template, but it always stands out to me as, I think, the only example of Older Angela thinking back. And it’s funny because it’s such an utterly banal thing to remember!
I think that’s what I liked about the technique in both of these books… it’s a convention of fiction that the narrator has this obscenely good memory, and you accept it for the sake of getting the story. Garden, and to a lesser extent Peters, break that convention and make their narrators into …people narrating, instead.